The end of DOMA means equal treatment for same-sex spouses of veterans
The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, reports that 650,000 same-sex couples live in the United States and about 13 percent of those relationships include a veteran. The institute said it’s unknown how many of those estimated 85,000 relationships involve marriages. A dozen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
Same-sex spouses of military veterans now will be able to get help with college tuition and can be buried in a national cemetery. They also can get a monthly indemnity payment that compensates them for the death of the veteran. Meanwhile, veterans receive enhanced disability compensation for their injuries if they’re married, generally amounting to several thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.
But under the Defense of Marriage Act and the law covering Veterans Administration benefits, such extra assistance was unavailable to veterans who were part of a same-sex marriage. That all changed with the Supreme Court ruling Wednesday.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has introduced legislation that would liberalize the definition of spouse to include anyone whose marriage is considered valid in the state where it occurred.
After the court’s decision, Shaheen wrote letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki saying she hoped policies that “discriminate against loving, same-sex couples will no longer be enforced.”
“The sooner people can access benefits that should be available to them, the better for them and their families,” she said.
Testifying last month at a Senate hearing, the VA said it supported exempting the department from the Defense of Marriage Act, and that it supported the Shaheen bill.
In case anyone is wondering what these couples are potentially missing out on…
The financial gain from the Supreme Court’s decision could be significant for some veterans. For example, a veteran considered 100 percent disabled gets VA compensation amounting to $2,816 a month. A similarly disabled veteran with a spouse gets $2,973 — a difference of nearly $1,900 annually. In another example, a spouse of a veteran who died as a result of injuries or illness incurred while on active duty is eligible to receive at least $1,195 a month in indemnity compensation.
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans can transfer to their spouse or children their unused educational benefits. The VA will pay the in-state tuition rates and fees for veterans attending public schools and up to $17,500 for veterans attending private schools.