By Tammy Walters
Oneida County Veterans Service Officer
On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all states and that those unions must be recognized. Same-sex married couples will now have the opportunity to share VA benefits including survivors’ pensions, home loans, medical services, and other benefits that previously were not available to them.
Active duty same-sex military couples received access to Department of Defense benefits in 2013 when the high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But even after that ruling, Veterans Affairs (VA) officials denied benefits for some same-sex couples in states where their marriages were not legally recognized, citing other federal restrictions. Now those barriers are gone. VA officials say they are working quickly to provide instructions on extending benefits to all same-sex married couples.
The VA stated the new ruling allows the department to “recognize the same-sex marriage of all veterans where the veteran or the veteran’s spouse resided anywhere in the United States or its territories at the time of the marriage or at the time of application for benefits.”
Four months have passed since the Supreme Court ruling and no further guidance has been promulgated by the VA. I don’t, however, recommend you wait until the VA puts out their guidance. If you are eligible to apply for benefits as a spouse, you should apply as long as you have a valid marriage. If you were married in Wisconsin, any same-sex marriage on or after October 6, 2014 is a legal marriage. Don’t wait for an official publication. A delay in filing a claim is a delay in benefits.
Tammy Walters is available at (715) 369-6127, or firstname.lastname@example.org.