Last week you read right here about how a district court judge in California ruled that the VA could not deny spousal benefits to same-sex couples. Although the Supreme Court earlier in the summer struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, the VA said that decision did not apply to its definition of spouse. You were cautioned that the August 29th decision in California would likely take a while before it extended to other parts of the country.
Fast forward to just a week later. On September 4th the Justice Department announced that it would stop enforcing a federal law that prohibits the VA from providing same-sex spousal benefits for veterans. Attorney General Eric Holder advised lawmakers that the Supreme Court’s holding in Windsor v. U.S. also nullifies the VA’s law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Although these are completely separate laws, Holder said the VA one contains the same language as that struck down by the Supreme Court.
Holder’s statements stem from President Obama’s directive that the executive branch stop obeying the VA statute because it had decided it was unconstitutional in light of the Court’s ruling. This move will not only allow same-sex spouses to get paid spousal benefits, but it will also open the door to health care benefits.
Does This Mean Same-Sex Spousal Benefits for Veterans Are Required Everywhere?
Unfortunately, this all still does not mean immediate recognition by the VA of same-sex spouses. Factors such as where the veteran lives or was discharged and whether that state recognizes same-sex marriages still matter. The Court’s ruling did not create a federal law that recognizes those marriages that states do not. You can be assured, however, that the Obama administration’s aggressive decision to stop obeying the law without a definitive court ruling will put pressure on the VA to hopefully act sooner rather than later.
To learn more about your rights and how our firm can be of assistance, contact a veterans disability lawyer from Bosley & Bratch today.