For many veterans and service members, June 26, 2013 will be remembered as the day freedom came home.
The United States Supreme Court issued their groundbreaking decision in United States v. Windsor, which held that section III of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
This is a fancy way of saying that the U.S. Government treated married same sex couples differently than married heterosexual couples.
In practice, this meant that legally married same sex couples could not take advantage of over 1,000 federal statutes and regulations which provide benefits for married couples. This held true even where the couples were legally married and living in a state that recognized same sex marriages. This was because DOMA defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
There are currently twelve states and the District of Columbia where same sex marriages are deemed to be legal. Until this ruling, married same sex couples that lived in these states were not eligible for any federal benefits that heterosexual couples were entitled to based on their marriage. Many of these benefits are incredibly broad and in some cases all-encompassing and they include entitlements such as Social Security benefits, Family Medical Leave Act, Department of Defense (DoD) benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2010, we now have many members of the active duty military as well as guard and reserves that are in a legal same sex marriage in a state where such marriages are recognized and legal. For these military spouses equality was just a dream until now. These spouses were not allowed to use the base facilities, receive Tricare benefits or even receive benefits from the DoD if their spouse died in combat. In fact, in most instances based on DOMA, DoD did not consider the spouse to be the next of kin. In some cases, the military has failed to notify a same sex spouse of their partner’s death while on active duty.
These inequities followed veterans into the civilian sector as well. There is a wealth of benefits available to veterans and their spouses from the VA. These benefits are paid to the veteran on behalf of their spouse for increased disability or directly to the surviving spouse to compensate them for the loss of their veteran spouse unless of course DOMA prevented payment which it did until today. These are just two examples of the many benefits that may be available to a veteran and their same sex spouse.
With the Court’s recent decision, we expect that DoD and VA benefits will soon be available to married same sex couples just as they are available to married heterosexual couples. It is far too early to even begin to guess how and when these changes will be implemented but I suggest you keep checking back on our website and also take a look at our Knowledge Books regarding some of the benefits you may soon be entitled to.
If you would like to read the court decision for yourself you can access an electronic copy on the court’s website at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/
Additionally if you think you will be filing a claim for benefits in the future there is no reason why you can’t start getting your information and evidence together now in preparation. If our Knowledge Books do not answer your questions you may also want to send us a question through our Ask VetsFirst service.