27 August 2013

VA: No Benefits for Married LGBT Veterans & Spouses Yet

U.S. Department of Veterans AffairsAccording to a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), gay married couples are still unable to receive federal Veterans benefits for the time being. Despite the recent ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married LGBT Veterans must wait to see what happens next regarding their benefits.

In a letter dated August 14, 2013, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stated that the administration determined LGBT Veterans remain outside the recent DOMA ruling because of Title 38, a portion of the U.S. Code governing Veterans benefits that defines spouse in opposite-sex terms independent of DOMA.

The letter is addressed to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) who inquired about the VA allowing access to spousal benefits for married LGBT Veterans and their spouses.

See the letter here…

The letter reads:

Dear Senator Shaheen:

Thank you for your letter regarding the availability of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits to same-sex married couples. VA shares your commitment in recognizing the service and sacrifices of our Nation’s Veterans and ensuring that Veterans and their families receive the care and benefits they have earned and deserve.

Certain provisions in title 38, United States Code, define “spouse” and “surviving spouse” to refer only to a person of the opposite sex. See 38 U.S.C. 101(3) and (31). Under the provisions, s same-sex marriage recognized by a State would not confer spouse status for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits. Although the title 38 definitions of “spouse” and “surviving spouse” are smilar to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provisions at issue in United States v. Windsor, no court has yet held the title 38 definitions to be unconstitutional.

VA and the Department of Justice are working together to assess the impact of the Windsor decision on the continued constitutional viability of secions 101(31) and 101(3) of title 38 and VA’s obligations with respect to those remaining statutes. Challenges to the constitutionality of the title 38 definitions of spouse” and “surviving spouse” currently are pending before Federal courts in Cooper-Harris v. United State, No. 12-cv-887 (C.D. Cal.); McLaughlin v. Panetta, No. 11-cv-11905 (D. Mass.); and Cardona v. Shinseki, No. 11-3083 (Vet. App.).

You also inquired about VA’s ability to recognize a marriage based on its validity in the state of celebration, without regard to the laws of the state of residence. Currently, 38 U.S.C.’s 103(c) provides that a marriage shall be proven vaild “according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided at the time the rights to benefits accrued.” Nonetheless, a same-sex spouse whose marriage to a Veteran was vaild in the state where the parties resided at the time they entered the marriage would not meet the definition of “spouse” under 38 U.S.C. 101(31) for purposes of VA benefits. VA supports enactment of your bill, S. 373, the Charlie Morgan Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013, to remove the requirement that a Veteran’s “spouse” or “surviving spouse” be a person of the opposite sex.

Should the title 38 spousal definitions be revised or determined to be unconstitutional, VA will be prepared to update its policies and systems in a timely manner and ensure that the delivery and quality of Veterans’ benefits remain at the highest standards. Our commitment to Veterans and their families will continue to be our focus as VA implements any necessary changes to comply with applicable law and guidance.

I appreciate your continued support for our mission.

Sincerely,
Eric K. Shinseki

Some of the spousal benefits governed by Title 38 are disability benefits, survivor benefits, and joint burial at a Veterans cemetery. Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that 38′s restrictions of benefits to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional and that the Administration would not defend DOMA in the courts when cases seeking benefits were in place.

Read more: ’75 law blocks benefits for gay vets’ spouses, Bob Egelko (SFGate), 28 July 2013

“We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling,” Shaheen said.

A conclusion from the VA and Department of Justice (DOJ) hopefully will be issued on this matter.

Find out more on the benefits addressed by Title 38: CLICK HERE

Read more:

Same-sex married couples still ineligible for Veterans benefits, Taylor Berman (Gawker), 27 August 2013

Veterans benefits for gay married couples still denied, Chris Johnson (Washington Blade), 27 August 2013

Despite DOMA ruling, gay Veterans may still be denied marriage benefits, Josh Israel (Think Progress), 27 August 2013

14 August 2013

Benefits for Servicemembers’ Same-Sex Spouses Coming in September

Department of Defense (DoD)Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced its plan to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed service members and Department of Defense civilian employees, according to a DoD news release issued today.

After a review of the department’s benefit policies following the Supreme Court’s ruling that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, and in consultation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other executive branch agencies, the Defense Department will make spousal and family benefits available no later than September 3, 2013, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate.

Read more: Memo – Further Guidance on Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses of Military Members, DoD, 13 August 2013

The DoD remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs.

Entitlements such as TRICARE enrollment, basic allowance for housing (BAH) and family separation allowance are retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court’s decision. Any claims to entitlements before that date will not be granted. For those members married after June 26, 2013, entitlements begin at the date of marriage.

The DoD recognizes that same-sex military couples who are not stationed in a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage would have to travel to another jurisdiction to marry. That is why the department will implement policies to allow military personnel in such a relationship non-chargeable leave for the purpose of travelling to a jurisdiction where such a marriage may occur. This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married.

For civilian benefits administered government-wide to federal employees, the DoD will follow the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Labor’s guidance to ensure that the same benefits currently available to heterosexual spouses are also available to legally married same-sex spouses.

Read more: Benefits Administration Letter, OPM, 17 July 2013

9 August 2013

Benefits for same-sex military couples detailed in draft DoD memo

A Department of Defense (DoD) draft memo obtained by the Associated Press this week indicated that same-sex spouses of military members could get health care, housing, and other benefits by the end of August. The proposal is reportedly being considered by the Pentagon; additionally, earlier plans to provide benefits to unmarried same-sex partners may be reversed.

Instead, the memo indicates Servicemembers is same-sex relationships could be granted up to 10 days of leave to travel to states were same-sex marriage is legal. The memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to top defense leaders, if implemented, would reverse an earlier plan that would have allowed the same-sex partners of military members to sign a declaration form in order to receive limited benefits, such as access to military stores and some health and welfare programs.

Read more: Pentagon may revise same-sex benefits, Lolita C. Baldor (USA Today), 07 August 2013

The recent Supreme Court decision extending federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples eliminates the need for such a plan, Hagel said in the draft.

“As the Supreme Court’s ruling has made it possible for same-sex couples to marry and be afforded all benefits available to any military spouse and family, I have determined, consistent with the unanimous advice of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the spousal and family benefits far outweigh the benefits that could be extended under a declaration system,” Hagel wrote.

The memo is presently under legal review by the Department of Justice (DOJ); the Pentagon will not be able to take any action until the review is completed.

“Although we have bases and installations in all 50 states, not all state laws are equal when it comes to same-sex marriage,” a defense official said. “That is why we are looking at providing extra leave for same-sex couples who want to get married to travel to a state where same-sex marriages are legal.” The officials were not authorized to discuss the memo publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity.

DoD officials could not provide comments on the specifics of the memo although DoD spokeman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen stated that the Pentagon “is working alongside the Department of Justice to implement the court’s decision as quickly as possible.”

Read more: Pentagon silent on same sex benefit timeline, Amy Bushaz (Military.com), 08 August 2013

Early this year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that by no later than Oct. 1 the Pentagon would extend some limited benefits to same-sex partners of Servicemembers. Housing benefits were not included, but the plans called for same-sex partners to get special identification cards granting them access to commissaries and other services.

The benefits would be contingent on the Servicemember and his or her same-sex partner signing a declaration that they were in a committed relationship.

Video: Military benefits for same-sex spouses, FOX 5 DC, 08 August 2013

At the time, officials said that if the Supreme Court ruled on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the issue would be revisited. The act prohibited the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

In late-June, the Supreme Court cleared the way for legally married gay couples to be recognized under federal law and also allowed same-sex marriages in California to resume. It did not issue any sweeping declarations that would allow same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the country.

When the ruling was announced, Hagel said the Pentagon would reassess the department’s decisions on benefits for same-sex couples and also begin the process of extending benefits to same-sex spouses of military members.

In the new draft memo, Hagel says the department intends to treat all married military personnel the same and “make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation.”

But, recognizing that same-sex couples are only allowed to marry in a limited number of states, Hagel said the provision allowing service members to travel to states where the unions are legal is a way to help overcome those challenges.

Defense officials estimate there are 18,000 same-sex couples in the active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves. It’s unclear how many of those are married.

Resources:

American Military Partner Association (AMPA): The nation’s premier resource and support network for the partners and spouses of LGBT Servicemembers and Veterans

Servicemembers, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A): Advocates for and support our actively serving LGBT military members and Veterans, and their families, while working to ensure the military provides equal opportunity for all service members regardless of race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity

Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC): Provides support, education, resource, and advocacy for partners and children of LGBT Servicemembers – including families of Servicemembers on active duty, in the Reserves, National Guard, and Veterans

24 July 2013

08/04: AMPA Webinar – Navigating Your Benefits for Military Families, Part 1

American Military Partners Association (AMPA)The American Military Partner Association (AMPA) will host a webinar in light of the upcoming changes in benefits for Servicemembers, Veterans, and their Partners on Sunday, August 4, 2013 @ 5 p.m. EDT. Below is the info for the webinar:

With the implementation of equal benefits for all military families comes an enormous array of benefits in various areas, many of which you might not know about.

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA) is proud to host a four-part series called, “Navigating Your Benefits for Military Families,” on education, health care, employment, and financial services.

This first webinar will be an overview of educational resources provided through the DoD, VA, and various private organizations. Whether you are a seasoned student or are thinking of setting off on the path to a degree/certification/licensure, there are programs for financial assistance, transferability, in-state residency, and more.

Join Alison Hansen, Associate Director of Thomas Edison State College’s Office of Military & Veteran Education and Bianca Strzalkowski, Founder of the Military Spouse Education Initiative, who will discuss the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, MyCAA program, and much more.

You can submit your questions ahead of time by emailing us at partners@militarypartners.org.

Register to attend here…

22 July 2013

Launched: SPARTA – An LGBT Military Organization

In light of the recent OutServe-SLDN’s leadership upheaval and subsequent scaling down of operations, a new group has emerged to represent the LGBT Servicemember and Veteran community.

Service members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A) has stepped up its presence as “An LGBT Military Organization.” In its Facebook description, SPART*A is dubbed as “a group of LGBT people and allies who are currently serving or have served in the military, and our families.”

As of yet, the group’s website remains static with the promise of a “New site coming soon.”

A press release from SPART*A was issued on Facebook:

“Even after the repeal of DADT, the privacy of service members is the number one priority. We respect the desire of each individual member of SPARTA and service member at large to come out in their own time, and concurrently, we offer a secure forum for all LGBT service members through our organization and welcome them to engage one other socially and professionally.

“Membership information, to include gender identity, is maintained by our Membership and Technology Directors and unavailable to the remainder of the Board and others. Membership demographics, however, such as duty status, branch, and location are open to the Board and others as a way to gauge how we can best serve and accommodate our membership, as well as have potential donors more invested in our organization through the statistics we provide.

“SPARTA exists as a singular entity composed of dedicated members and leaders. We honor the service and legacies of our members, from actively serving and families to veterans and allies, and we do not engage in activities betraying their trust. This statement serves as the covenant respecting the privacy of those who have entrusted us to allow continued service and engagement in their communities and commands as advocates, allies, and members of an organization dedicated to advancing the military’s culture of inclusion and support.”

Additionally, a New Civil Rights Movement article indicates that the Transgender chapter of OS-SLDN has left to join SPARTA citing the “upheaval at OutServe-SLDN” in order to “determine where and how we can best fit within the movement.” The Advocate also posted more information on this development. Continue reading

19 July 2013

07/21: MPFC Virtual Family Meeting @ 4-5 p.m. ET

The Military Families and Partners Coalition (MPFC) will be hosting a Virtual Family Meeting this Sunday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Here’s the blurb about the meeting:

This Sunday, we feature Lindsay Reiner from the Department of Defense (DoD) Repeal Implementation Team, to tell us about DoD progress in implementation of benefits for LGBT military families (and important deadlines you should know). Bring your questions, get answers, and chat LIVE with other military families in a safe space.

For more information, check out http://www.milpfc.org/connect/virtual-hangout/

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