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Veterans benefits for gay married couples still denied

Shinseki endorses passage of legislation to address issue

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Tracey (left) & Maggie Cooper-Harris have sued to received veterans benefits that were denied under Title 38 (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Tracey (left) & Maggie Cooper-Harris have sued to received veterans benefits that were denied under Title 38 (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Gay married couples are still barred from receiving veterans spousal benefits at this time despite the court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, according to a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs that was obtained Tuesday by the Washington Blade.

In a letter dated Aug. 14, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki says gay veterans are currently unable to receive the federal benefits of marriage because of Title 38, a portion of the U.S. code governing veterans benefits that defines spouse in opposite-sex terms independent of DOMA.

“Certain provisions in title 38, United States Code, define ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ to refer only to a person of the opposite-sex,” the letter states. “Under these provisions, a same-sex marriage recognized by a State would not confer spousal status for purposes of eligibility of VA benefits. Although the title 38 definition of ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ are similar to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision at issue in United States v. Windsor, no court has yet held the title 38 definitions to be unconstitutional.”

Shinseki’s letter continues to say that the Department of Veterans Affairs is still working with the Department of Justice “to assess the impact of the Windsor decision on the continued constitutional viability” of Title 38’s and VA’s obligations with respect to those statutes.

An earlier version of this article said the Obama administration had made a determination in the wake of the DOMA decision that gay couples are ineligible for these benefits. Josh Taylor, a VA spokesperson, said the review is ongoing.

“No decisions on benefits have been made at this point,” Taylor said. “We’re working with DOJ to assess Title 38 after the ruling and no conclusions have been drawn from that yet.”

However, the letter does indicate that a gay couple that marries in one state, travels to another that doesn’t recognize the union won’t be able to receive veterans benefits if they apply for them there.

“You also inquired about VA’s ability to recognize a marriage based on its validity in the state of celebration, without regard to the laws of state of residence,” Shinseki says. “A same-sex spouse whose marriage to a Veteran was valid in the state where the parties resided at the time they entered the marriage would not meet the definition under [Title 38] for purposes of VA benefits.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said an update to the law is needed to ensure full equality even in the aftermath of the DOMA ruling.

“The end of section 3 of DOMA unfortunately does not mean all married same-sex couples are fully equal in the eyes of the federal government no matter where they live,” Cole-Schwartz said. “We believe there is more work the administration can do to faithfully interpret the Windsor ruling in an expansive manner but as we have said before, Congressional action is needed to ensure all married couples are treated equally in all ways.”

Some of the spousal benefits allocated under Title 38 are disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that Title 38’s restriction of benefits to opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional and the Obama administration won’t defend the law in court against challenges seeking benefits for same-sex couples.

As noted in the letter, lawsuits seeking to overturn Title 38’s prohibition on veterans benefits for same-sex spouses are Cooper-Harris v. United States, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, McLaughlin v. Panetta, filed by the group now known as OutServe-SLDN, and Cardona v. Shinseki.

Shinseki’s letter was in response to an inquiry from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who made the Obama administration’s letter public on Tuesday. She’s the co-sponsor of the Charlie Morgan Act, a bill that would change U.S. code to ensure gay veterans in legal same-sex marriages can receive spousal benefits.

In a statement, Shaheen explains why the situation with Title 38 demonstrates the need for Congress to pass her legislation.

“We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act to bring Department of Veteran Affairs benefits policy in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA,” Shaheen said. “I’m committed to making this happen. Every individual who serves in uniform deserves access to the benefits that they’ve earned and rightfully deserve. We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.”

There’s already been some movement on the bill. On July 24, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs reported out the Charlie Morgan Act by voice vote to the Senate floor.

Jeremy Johnson, co-chair of the newly formed LGBT military group SPART*A, said the onus is on the Obama administration to work to change the law if that’s what’s necessary.

“The need for change has been identified,” Johnson said. “If Mr. Shinseki’s staff has determined it is not within his department’s legal authority to change policy in a way that reflects the spirit and intent of the Windsor decision, it is incumbent upon him, as the leader charged with ensuring all veterans receive equal opportunity for the care and benefits provided by the VA, to work with the President and call upon Congress to make the necessary change to the law without delay.”

Shinseki concludes the letter by saying the Obama administration supports passage of the Charlie Morgan Act and is prepared to enact changes to the law if required.

“VA supports enactment of your bill, S. 373, the Charlie Morgan Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013, to remove the requirement that a Veteran’s “spouse” or “surviving spouse” be a person of the opposite sex,” the letter states. “Should the title 38 spousal definitions be revised or determined to be unconstitutional, VA will be prepared to update its policies and systems in a timely manner and ensure that the delivery and quality of Veteran’s benefits remain at the highest standards.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated the VA had already made a determination that gay married veterans wouldn’t be able spousal benefits under Title 38. The Blade regrets the error.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Benny Singh Rios

    August 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Sad

  2. Benny Singh Rios

    August 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    SAD

  3. Lauren Ashbaugh

    August 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    These are federal benefits. If they are offered to legally married straight couples then they should be offered to legally married LGBT couples. Its the law now that DOMA section 3 has been ruled unconstitutional.

  4. Lauren Ashbaugh

    August 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Ok. Just worked out the wording of the article. Seems its not DOMA that was the problem.

  5. Tom Stark

    August 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    This needs to change. Because the times have changed. GAY RIGHTS are now active across the country. They can't hold back benefits to gay veterans and their spouse. DOMA and DADT changed all that. they need to change the policy's now.

  6. Fernando Nardin

    August 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    make no sense just got married and my husband that put in 22 years of his life to protect our usa and this is all the shit we need too put up with…really!

  7. Eli Rivera

    August 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    C'mon Shenseki don't be such a wonka nerd.What are they going to do drag you before congress and question why you are doing what the president the, the supreme court and the people have all declared to be legal and fair.Will you stand up and use old code language to justiy benefit denial.You should be ashamed.

  8. Alisa Neely

    August 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    I thought Leon Penta had said this was a DONE DEAL? why the hold up….and another reason to REPEAL DOMA TOTALLY.

  9. Alisa Neely

    August 27, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    i thought that HAD been part of the problem originally, though?

  10. Alisa Neely

    August 27, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    unfortunally, until ALL STATES recgonize same-sex marriage and make it legal and DOMA in full is repealed….there is still a ways to go…saddly.

  11. John D. Cox

    August 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    If DOMA's gone, why aren't all the rest of the bullshit? Do we have to drag each and every other law, bureaucratic regulation, policy, and procedure into court that doesn't agree with DOMA being struck down?

  12. Penny Kriete Hernandez

    August 28, 2013 at 1:32 am

    NO! This is WRONG and exactly like denying spouses and dependents of female military members of benefits. Ruth Bader Ginsburg won this in 1973.

  13. Tra C-Harris

    August 28, 2013 at 2:27 am

    Agee 100%. TFrontiero v Richardson was the case that changed the definition of spouse from "wife" to "opposite sex husband or wife." w/RBG & SPLC. Sad that the VA is using this definition of spouse to deny benefits to spouses of veterans.

  14. Jake Riley

    August 28, 2013 at 3:08 am

    Oh for fuck's sake.

  15. Rick Mangus

    August 28, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Still think Obama cares about the gay community, think again!

  16. Victor Salvo

    August 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    "CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated the VA had already made a determination that gay married veterans wouldn’t be able spousal benefits under Title 38. The Blade regrets the error."

    Do you realize the firestorm you touched-off with your "error"??? This pathetic correction is woefully lacking for such a hot-button issue.

  17. Vickie Adams

    August 30, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    I just hope this isn't going to drag out the way Agent Orange benefits for Blue Water Navy has for Vietnam vets.

  18. Michael Reichmann

    September 18, 2013 at 3:36 am

    the tutie fruities and the man thing females don't need extra rights …..they been suckin up generous resources to cover their perversions regularly now…..pinkos and dykos should be caged not allowed to roam free…..

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Biden recognizes 10th anniversary of end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Pete Buttigieg, Gina Ortiz Jones named in White House statement

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President Biden recognized in a statement on Monday the tenth anniversary of the end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that once discharged service members from the military for being openly gay or bisexual.

“Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members,” Biden said. “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all.”

Biden recognized high-profile openly gay appointees in his administrations who are also veterans, naming Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Biden also names Shawn Skelly, assistant secretary of defense for readiness, who would have been discharged from the military under President Trump’s transgender military ban.

“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden said. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”

Technically speaking, the anniversary of Obama signing repeal legislation was in December. Today is the anniversary of defense officials certifying the military is ready, which put an end to the policy.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Tenth Anniversary of the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do. And, it showed once again that America is at its best when we lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.

Despite serving with extraordinary honor and courage throughout our history, more than 100,000 American service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—including some 14,000 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Many of these veterans received what are known as “other than honorable” discharges, excluding them and their families from the vitally important services and benefits they had sacrificed so much to earn.

As a U.S. Senator, I supported allowing service members to serve openly, and as Vice President, I was proud to champion the repeal of this policy and to stand beside President Obama as he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act into law. As President, I am honored to be Commander-in-Chief of the strongest and most inclusive military in our nation’s history. Today, our military doesn’t just welcome LGBTQ+ service members—it is led at the highest levels by brave LGBTQ+ veterans, including Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, who served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I was gratified to appoint the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet member, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and Afghanistan veteran who joined the military under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. And during my first week in office, I proudly delivered on my pledge to repeal the discriminatory ban on open service by patriotic transgender service members.

On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation. We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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