BY BTL STAFF
WASHINGTON. D.C. – On the eve of Veterans Day, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the nation’s largest organization for the partners, spouses, families and allies of America’s LGBT service members and veterans, once again called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately begin granting full and equal benefits to legally married LGBT veterans and their spouses.
“This is completely unacceptable and must be fixed now,” U.S. Army veteran and AMPA’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator Gene Silvestri said. “It’s unconscionable that legally married LGBT veterans are still being denied their full veterans’ benefits if they happen to live in a state that doesn’t respect their marriage. These are earned federal benefits, not benefits from the state.”
Even after the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is still following discriminatory language in Title 38 section 103c when determining the validity of marriages for veteran benefits purposes. As service members transition from active duty, same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states are denied full and equal access to many earned veterans’ benefits from the VA. Legally married active duty service members living in non-marriage equality states are also denied access to the full backing of VA home loans.
“How much longer do these families have to wait for the benefits they’ve sacrificed for and earned serving our nation?” spouse of a U.S. Army officer and AMPA’s Director of Family Readiness, Ashley Broadway, asked. “More importantly, why does no one seem to care that these families are being treated differently? Where are the Members of Congress who are supposedly champions of our veterans and their families?”
In August, AMPA filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the VA challenging the VA’s regulations. The petition filed in the Federal Circuit Court argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor striking down Section 3 of DOMA specifically flagged as unconstitutional the deprivation of veterans’ benefits to same-sex spouses. The VA should not rely on discriminatory state marriage bans that have been declared unconstitutional by federal courts far and wide throughout the country as the basis to deny these spousal benefits now.
The petition further states, “Having weathered the federal government’s past, longstanding discrimination against them, lesbian and gay veterans and their families find themselves once again deprived of equal rights and earned benefits by the government they served and the nation for which they sacrificed.”
The challenge is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit [AMPA v. MacDonald, No. 14-7121 (Fed. Cir. 2014)].