Same-Sex Married Couples Still Ineligible for Veterans Benefits

Gay married couples are ineligible to receive the same federal veterans benefits afforded to straight couples, according to a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The letter, obtained by the Washington Blade on Tuesday, cites Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which “define[s] 'spouse' and surviving spouse' to refer only to a person of the opposite sex."

The letter explains why Title 38 remains in effect despite using nearly identical language as the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Supreme Court struck down in June. From the letter:

“Under these provisions, a same-sex marriage recognized by a State would not confer spousal status for purposes of eligibility of VA benefits. Although the title 38 definition of ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ are similar to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision at issue in United States v. Windsor, no court has yet held the title 38 definitions to be unconstitutional.”

Eric Shinseki, the Obama-appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs, wrote the letter on August 14 in response to an inquiry from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Shaheen is co-sponsoring the Charlie Morgan Act, which would change U.S. code to ensure the rights of gay veterans in same-sex marriages.

From a statement provided by Shaheen to the Washington Blade:

"We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act to bring Department of Veteran Affairs benefits policy in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA,” Shaheen said. “I’m committed to making this happen. Every individual who serves in uniform deserves access to the benefits that they’ve earned and rightfully deserve. We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.”

[Image via AP]

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