Female Iraq war veteran told by the Department of Veterans Affairs that her legal wife and child are not recognized by the federal government because the state of Texas doesn’t
Today, the American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families, strongly condemned a move by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), requiring a female Iraq war veteran, Melissa Perkins-Fercha, to pay back her federal veterans benefits tied to her legal wife and daughter because the state of Texas does not recognize her same-sex marriage.
“Nothing angers me more than to find out a veteran is being denied earned veterans benefits and compensation for the sole reason they live in a state that does not respect their marriage or family,” said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “No veteran should be treated like this. Melissa put her life on the line for our country, and now our country is telling her that her family doesn’t count just because her spouse happens to be the same sex.”
“I was shocked, angry, and hurt all at once,” said Melissa Perkins-Fercha, an Iraq war veteran. “Who are they to tell me that my marriage is not valid and my daughter is not mine? More importantly, how does the rest of the federal government recognize my marriage and daughter but the Department of Veterans Affairs does not? “
Melissa served our nation for five years on active duty, during the September 11th attacks and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After the military stationed her in Texas, she left active duty and received a 50% disability rating from the VA. In 2012, Melissa and her wife traveled to the state of Washington, where her wife’s parents reside, to legally marry. Her wife then gave birth to their daughter back in El Paso, TX, in April of 2014. She added her wife and daughter as dependents with the VA, and as a disabled veteran with dependents, should have been entitled to the benefits that she earned.
After applying, she received a letter from the VA telling her the state of Texas does not recognize her same-sex marriage, therefore the federal government would not recognize her wife or child as dependents for the purposes of veterans benefits. However, the VA failed to remove her wife and daughter from their system resulting in her being compensated at the higher rate that disabled veterans with dependents receive.
She appealed their unjust decision on June 3, 2014, and on February 2, 2015, the VA once again sent her a letter telling her again no established relationship with her wife could be established because Texas does not recognize their marriage, regardless of the fact that they were legally married in the state of Washington. Yesterday, she received another letter stating that her dependents were removed from the system and her disability compensation would be withheld until the compensation based on dependents was paid back in full.
As service members transition from active duty, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states are denied full and equal access to many earned veterans’ benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including disability compensation based on dependents and even access to the full backing of VA home loans. Even after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to follow a discriminatory provision in the governing statute – Title 38 section 103(c) – that requires it to look to the state of residence to determine the validity of a marriage.
In August of 2014, AMPA filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the VA challenging the VA’s regulations. The challenge is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [AMPA v. McDonald, No. 14-7121 (Fed. Cir. 2014)].