Gay and lesbian veterans who are married won't have the same access to benefits as heterosexual couples, despite the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to an internal Veteran's Affairs Department letter published by the Washington Blade Tuesday.
The August 14 letter, addressed to New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and signed by Veteran's Affairs Director Eric Shinseki, states that Title 38, the law defining who is eligible for veteran's benefits defines "spouses" as being of the opposite sex. As MSNBC reported shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the gender-specific language in the law governing veteran's benefits was likely to exclude married same-sex couples from being granted the same benefits as married heterosexual couples, such as medical benefits or burial with their spouse in a veteran's cemetery.
"Should the Title 38 spousal definitions be revised or be determined to be unconstitutional, VA will be prepared to update its systems in a timely manner and ensure that the delivery and quality of veteran's benefits remain at the highest standards," Shinkseki writes. The Blade reports that such a proposal has already made it past the committee stage in Congress. Until it passes or the law is struck down in court, the VA will continue to grant benefits only to married heterosexual couples.