June 5, 2015 at 11:51 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Amendment for same-sex VA benefits fails in Senate

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A measure to ensure same-sex benefits for veterans failed to pass the Senate. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

An amendment failed in the Senate on Thursday that would have ensured veterans in same-sex marriages have access to certain spousal benefits wherever they live, although eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the measure — which is along the lines of her standalone legislation known as the Charlie Morgan Act — on the floor of the Senate during debate on the fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill. The vote on the measure was 53-42, which was short of the 60-vote requirement needed for passage.

U.S. code for veterans benefits looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married. Despite the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration determined ruled it couldn’t afford veterans spousal benefits to married same-sex couples living in states without marriage equality.

Although the administration has developed a workaround for some benefits, it still won’t afford others like ChampVA (health care for spouses of disabled veterans), higher disability compensation for disabled veterans with dependents, full access to VA home loans and many survivor benefits for widows.

The eight Republicans who voted for the Shaheen amendment are: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Rob Portman (Ohio).

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who are pursuing the Republican nomination to run for the White House in 2016, voted against the amendment. Not casting a vote were Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who are also seeking the Republican nomination.

In a statement after the vote, Shaheen vowed to continue the fight to ensure veterans in same-sex marriages have access to spousal benefits wherever they live.

“It’s tremendously disappointing that the Senate would quietly vote to deny important benefits for those who have served our country in uniform and their families,” Shaheen said. “Veterans served their country bravely, and yet some are deprived of the very rights they risked their lives to protect. The impact of this discrimination is real. Monthly benefits are less; spouses and children are not eligible for medical care at the VA; and families are not eligible for the same death benefits. While I am disappointed, I am also resolved to continue fighting to make sure that all veterans get the benefits they’ve earned regardless of who they love or where they live.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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