A recent Pentagon announcement made it clear that same-sex spouses of U.S. military personnel will begin receiving full benefits immediately. But once military service ends, they may be out of luck.
LGBT veterans and their partners could find themselves unable to receive equal veterans' benefits due to a portion of U.S. law, according to a letter written by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June, the federal government was quick to announce that married same-sex couples would receive all federal marriage benefits. But in a letter to U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen dated Aug. 14, Shinseki wrote that parts of Title 38 of the United States Code (which governs veterans' benefits) define both "spouse" and "surviving spouse" as members of the opposite sex. Because Title 38's language is independent of DOMA, gay U.S. veterans are not currently eligible to receive marriage-related veterans' benefits.
Shinseki points out that at least three pending court cases are challenging the constitutionality of Title 38's limited definitions of "spouse," and he adds that his department is working with the Justice Department to determine whether the Supreme Court's DOMA decision impacts the enforcement of Title 83.
That ought to be encouraging given the Obama administration's stance on same-sex marriage, but as Buzzfeed notes, Justice Department lawyers have already asked a federal court not to rule in favor of gay veterans on one Title 38-related case.
Meanwhile Shaheen, the senior Senator from New Hampshire, said Tuesday in a statement that she will continue fighting for a bill that would ensure veterans in same-sex marriages would receive federal benefits.
The bill, dubbed the Charlie Morgan Act, already cleared the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs in July.