Veterans

September 6, 2013

Feds won’t enforce same-sex veterans law

The Obama administration said Wednesday it will stop enforcing a law that blocks benefits to partners of military veterans in same-sex marriages.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder said that a provision in federal law on benefits to veterans and their families defines “spouse” to mean a person of the opposite sex. He says that definition leaves out legally married same-sex couples, and runs afoul of a June Supreme Court ruling.

The court declared unconstitutional a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act restricting the words marriage and spouse to apply only to heterosexual unions. Holder says that like the Defense of Marriage Act, the provision in the veterans benefits law has the effect of placing lawfully married same-sex couples in a second-tier marriage.

“Decisions by the Executive not to enforce federal laws are appropriately rare,” Holder told Congress. “Nevertheless, the unique circumstances presented here warrant non-enforcement.”

He said the Supreme Court’s conclusion that DOMA imposes a stigma on everyone in same-sex marriages “would seem to apply equally” to the veterans benefits law. Holder noted that after the Supreme Court’s decision, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives withdrew from a pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the veterans benefits provisions.

President Barack Obama directed the executive branch to cease enforcement of the provision, Holder wrote.

Last week, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse should be entitled to disability benefits, given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall said that federal law defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional since the high court’s decision allowing legally married gay couples the right to health care benefits.

Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the veterans benefits provisions, the reasoning of the opinion “strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional,” Holder wrote.

The Justice Department has been tapped by the White House to ensure that couples in same-sex marriages receive all federal benefits to which they are entitled. The Social Security Administration says it has started processing spousal retirement claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits. Last week, the government said that all legally married gay couples will be able to file joint federal tax returns even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.

Many of the changes are relatively easy to make because they involve federal regulations, but the veterans benefits present a more difficult issue because that prohibition is part of federal law.

“Continued enforcement would likely have a tangible adverse effect on the families of veterans and, in some circumstances, active-duty service members and reservists, with respect to survival, health care, home loan and other benefits,” Holder wrote.

Because of the way federal law on the Department of Veterans Affairs is worded, the Sept. 4 announcement does not apply to same-sex couples who live in a state that does not recognize gay marriage. Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said the issue is under review.

A gay rights group says it’s a problem. “We would like to see the Department of Veterans Affairs adopt a standard where the agency accepts a valid marriage license from any jurisdiction,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization.

“There’s no reason to treat veterans who live in one state differently than veterans who happen to live in a state that doesn’t recognize them,” Cole-Schwartz said.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Air Force photograph

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders to receive Congressional Gold Medal

Air Force photograph The USS Hornet had 16 U.S. Army Air Forces North American B-25B Mitchells on deck, ready for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942. Seventy-three years ago, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off fr...
 
 
Army photograph by Patrick Bloodgood

Over 27,000 burial sites to open at Arlington next year

Army photograph by Patrick Bloodgood Construction crews move dirt and prepare the ground at the Arlington National Cemetery Millennium Expansion Project, Feb. 19, 2014. The project also involves restoring an impaired stream tha...
 
 
Navy photograph by JOC Sam Shavers

SecNav commemorates Battle of Iwo Jima

Navy photograph by JOC Sam Shavers Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus delivers remarks at the 70th anniversary commemoration ceremony of The Battle for Iwo Jima in Iwo To, Japan. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived on Iwo To, ...
 

 

Applications accepted for 2015 National Veterans Golden Age Games

The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently accepting applications from Veterans interested in competing in the 2015 National Veterans Golden Age Games. Applications can be completed online at www.veteransgoldenagegames.va.gov, and will be accepted through May 15. Veterans ages 55 and older who are enrolled for VA care are eligible to participate. The 2015 National Veterans...
 
 

VA eliminates net worth as health care eligibility factor

The Department of Veterans Affairs is updating the way it determines eligibility for VA health care, a change that will result in more veterans having access to the health care benefits they’ve earned and deserve. Effective 2015, the VA eliminated the use of net worth as a determining factor for both health care programs and...
 
 

VA establishes MyVA advisory committee

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced March 13 the establishment of the MyVA Advisory Committee. The committee brings together skilled experts from the private, non-profit and government sectors to assist in reorienting the Department to better meet the needs of Veterans. This committee is charged with advising the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with a focus...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>