The short answer? We don’t know just yet.
Let me bring you up to speed. In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The basic idea of DOMA (without all the legalese) was that if you were LGBT, and lived in a state where you could get married (to another LGBT individual), the Federal government wouldn’t allow you to apply for or receive any Federal Benefits or Federal Recognition of your marriage.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court found that law unconstitutional – every citizen of the United States is to be afforded the Equal Protection of the laws of our land, and the majority of the Justices found that DOMA did not afford Equal Protection to American citizens that were LGBT — because they were LGBT.
What does that mean for VA Benefits? In theory, if you are LGBT, and are married to an individual of the same-sex in a state that allows it, you are entitled to receive all Veteran’s benefits that a hetero-sexual spouse would be entitled to.
In reality, there has been shouts of silence from the VA regarding the Court’s ruling yesterday. We do know, from past experience, that the VA Bureaucracy can play “fast and loose” with implementing the will of Congress – whether it will do so with the Court’s decision is the big question.
Good news, though. Senator Barry Sendors (D-VT), has said that “The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will take up this legislation next month if VA cannot implement the Supreme Court’s decision without congressional action.”
Additionally, pending before the veterans’ committee is legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and known as the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013. This act proposes to change the definition of “spouse”, to include same-sex partners in states where they are legally married, in several Federal statues; one of these statutes is Title 38 (Title 38 deals with Benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs).
As soon as I get word that the VA is implementing the SCOTUS decision allowing same-sex couples to receive VA benefits, I will let you know.
BUT – don’t let that be an excuse for waiting. If you are a same-sex couple, married in a state where same-sex marriages are lawful, and believe you are entitled to benefits from the VA, file your claims now. When the VA does get around to doing things, it is typically on a “first-come, first-serve” basis.
Stay tuned to the blog tomorrow…I’ll post the “Same Sex Couples Quick Intro to Veterans’ Spousal Benefits“. I’m sure there will be a much better title tomorrow.