On Wednesday, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) filed a joint status report and motion to continue to hold for an additional 30 days in the lawsuit filed on behalf of AMPA members who were denied VA benefits. Represented by Lambda Legal and Morrison and Foerster LLP, AMPA had filed the suit in August of 2014. The challenge was on hold pending the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The historic marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court in June of 2015 made it possible for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to begin recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of veteran benefits, no matter what state the veteran lives in. Previously denied spousal related benefits included benefits like disability compensation, death pensions, and home loan guarantees if the veteran happened to live in a state that didn’t recognize their marriage. The discriminatory language found in Title 38 section 103(c) was no longer applicable when determining the validity of same-sex marriages thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision affirming a Constitutional right to nationwide marriage equality in the Obergefell case.
Last week, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) released instructional and procedural guidance to their regional benefits offices and centers regarding processing same-sex spousal benefits claims. Currently, the VA is in its final steps toward releasing similar guidance to the public. According to the petition, the VA is “preparing guidance to the public, and expects to issue that guidance shortly.” The petition states “in order to provide adequate time for petitioner to review the public guidance once it has issued, the parties jointly request a 30-day extension of the current stay.” Wednesday’s filing also states, the “VA has continued to work diligently to issue post-Obergefell guidance.”
“It is wonderful to finally see this critical progress happen at the VA,” said Gene Silvestri, a U.S. Army veteran and AMPA’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator. “Our veterans and their families are finally able to receive their rightfully earned federal benefits, regardless of what state they live in or whom they love. Every veteran deserves respect and equality.”
According to AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack, the lawsuit will hopefully no longer need to be pursued as long as the new VA rules adequately ensure full recognition of veterans in same-sex marriages, their spouses, and families.