A married same-sex couple must be eligible for the same veteran benefits as married heterosexual couples, a federal court ruled Wednesday.
Although the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in July, the law governing veterans’ benefits, Title 38, defines marriage as between opposite-sex spouses independently of the now defunct law. Eric Shinseki, director of the Veteran’s Affairs Department, told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire on August 14 that the department would have to continue denying benefits to same-sex couples in order to comply with the law.
That left couples like Tracy Cooper-Harris, a U.S. Army veterinarian who served in Iraq, and her wife Maggie Cooper-Harris, out in the cold. Tracy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and subsequently denied the same financial support for her medical costs available to heterosexual spouses. According to her lawsuit, Cooper-Harris would be eligible for $124 more in aid were she married to a man. Federal Judge Consuelo B. Marshall ruled Wednesday that in light of the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act ruling the VA could no longer deny the Cooper-Harrises benefits simply because of their sexual orientation.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has not yet responded to the ruling, but Shinseki wrote in his Aug. 14 letter to Shaheen that if Title 38 were “revised or determined to be unconstitutional,” then the “VA will be prepared to update its policies and systems in a timely manner.”