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Veterans Affairs Announces Guidance for Same-Sex Married Couples Seeking Benefits

Congressional Action Needed for Recognition of All Same-Sex Marriages 

On June 20, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the conclusion of its review and implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case, and released guidance to same-sex married couples seeking benefits. As part of the announcement, the VA reaffirmed its commitment to recognizing same-sex marriages to the fullest extent allowed by law and is now processing all claims and applications that had been put on hold while the review was ongoing.

Unfortunately, both the VA and the Justice Department believe that Title 38 section 103(c), which applies a “place of residence” rule, prevents the recognition of same-sex marriages for veterans living in non-marriage equality states in regards to many vital benefits, although these have not yet been clearly defined publicly by the VA. The Administration is calling on Congress to take action through legislation so that all veterans will have access to their earned benefits.

Today’s announcement means that legally married LGBT veterans living in marriage equality states should now have access to ALL earned benefits. However, legally married LGBT veterans living in non-marriage equality states will continue to face challenges when applying for many vital benefits. Some benefits identified today that will be available to all regardless of where the veteran resides and are not restricted by Title 38 section 103(c) include:

  • Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)
  • Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI), including the process of converting a spouse’s FSGLI coverage to an individual policy spouse of a
  • Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI)
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits (VA’s recognizes all DoD-approved transfers to dependents)
  • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance if the relationship is based on marriage to a Servicemember.
  • Burial or memorialization benefits if the relationship is based on marriage to certain reservists, certain members of the reserve officer training corps, certain wartime allies of the U.S., and certain individuals entitled (or who would have been entitled but for their age) to retirement pay.

BOTTOMLINE: We have a long and hard battle ahead of us in working with our elected officials in Congress to fix this injustice. We simply cannot allow our nation’s veterans to continue to be denied the benefits they’ve earned just because of the gender of their spouse or where they happen to reside. While the Administration has made great efforts in providing legal recognition to married same-sex couples wherever they determined it legally possible, it simply isn’t enough. Our LGBT veterans have served, sacrificed, and in some cases died right alongside our heterosexual counterparts, and our nation cannot allow this injustice to continue. We must demand of our Congress that they pass legislation to address this issue immediately.