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How can a 23-year-old bike mechanic about to lose her parents’ benefits get full medical coverage anywhere in the world? For this young woman, it was pretty easy. She married her roommate’s younger brother—a U.S. Marine – and a complete stranger.
And he proposed to me all down on one knee, rum and coke in hand, and my fiancée kept assuring me that people in his training group were doing the same thing and that it was like tacitly smiled on by their supervisors.
So these two arranged a trade.
By getting married, he would get a housing stipend and permission to move off base. And as his legal wife, she would get health coverage and a cut of his extra money.
Benefits like these are standard throughout the U.S. military. Married service people can sometimes get more than 1,000 bucks extra every month to support their dependants. And spouses share some of the most comprehensive health benefits out there. At a time when more than 30 percent of young Americans are uninsured, that makes marriage look pretty good! Even if love's got nothing to do with it. This couple decided on a Vegas wedding.
Here we are at the altar. And then they put us under this little arch, there we are, he definitely slipped me some tongue, which I was not expecting. (laughter/fades under).
There was no romantic honeymoon after the wedding, just a breakfast at IHOP across the street from the chapel. The soldier was about to ship out to Iraq.
I asked him, “Are you afraid?” And he was like, “Well no, you can't be afraid 'cause you get paralyzed. So, as we were getting into the war, it was like uhhhhh, I don't really feel like an outsider to this quite so much. Like those tax dollars, some of them go to me. I am part of the defense budget.”
And not a small part. The military is spending 36 billion dollars per year on its health care system for military personnel and their families. That's double what it spent in 2001. And while there's no hard data on how many of these couples are families in name only, most everyone we spoke with said the trend was rising.
It exists and it exists more so than most people would believe.
That's Kevin Walters, Army Specialist from the 82nd Airborne, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He says he wouldn't get married for convenience himself, but he understands why others do it in these trying times…
And if you’re doing something to help yourself and help another, then it's really not such a bad thing. The reaction I saw most often is really a blind eye being turned towards it. Cuz it's common knowledge you don't get paid that much.... It's one of the only things the military can't control, I'm sure they wish they could.
Using this illusion of marriage as a means to an end is really inexcusable.
Lieutenant Kyle Raines is with Navy Public Affairs. He says just last year, some sailors stationed in San Diego were accused of marriage fraud. And after a court martial proceeding, one was demoted and discharged from the Navy. But conviction was only possible because this particular case involved falsified documents. Without that, says Lt. Raines, the military has few weapons.
If you have a legally binding marriage, it’s just that, a legally binding marriage.
And West Point Sociology Professor Morton Ender agrees.
PROFESSOR MORTON ENDER
If I were a commander and someone came to me and said, “Sir, I don’t necessarily love my spouse but we got married for financial reasons,” I don’t necessarily think a commander would have recourse against that. There’s not a rule in America that says you can’t get married for financial reasons.
So the wife I talked to isn’t worried about any major consequences. But she has faced some awkward moments, redeeming health care benefits with her husband far away.
Imagine going to the gynecologist and you’re like "I have my husband's medical insurance and I need this birth control and they're kinda looking at you funny (laughs) like "what are you doing while your husband is off defending our country?"
She says she didn’t expect these kinds of encounters or that marrying a soldier for healthcare – would somehow bring her closer to the War in Iraq.
· Number of uninsured young people
·Military health care system budget