By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com October 24 2013 1:47 PM ET
Eight months after her wife lost her battle with breast cancer, Karen Morgan can finally access the military health insurance, pension, and death benefits of her late wife, New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan, who died in February.
Karen Morgan received a military identification card for the first time Wednesday, granting her access to on-base housing, child care, commissary, and health insurance benefices in addition to various other privileges afforded to the spouses of service members.
"It was bittersweet, for sure," Morgan tells The Advocate. "Because the only thing that would have made it better was if Charlie was here to see that. But I'm very proud of the advocacy work that we did, and she believed in this with all her heart. She believed it was going to help our family, but also a lot of other families down the line that we would never even meet. And that's really why we got involved."
Wednesday's issuance of a military ID card comes just weeks after a federal judge in Massachusetts declared that Morgan, along with several other military veterans and service members in same-sex marriages, are entitled to retroactive benefits dating back to when the couples first tried to register for military benefits as legally married spouses in 2011. According to the court's ruling as reported at Army Times, Morgan could receive up to two years' back-pay on housing allowances, family separation pay, and health insurance coverage.
"So this was full-circle," says Morgan. "This was the thing that started our journey. We went in in October of 2011 and were denied for an identification card for me, and that was what started our fight. And it just was very symbolic to receive that yesterday, and to be surrounded by friends who were in the military as well as the civilian world while doing that."
CWO2 Morgan, a lesbian member of the national guard who came out on MSNBC the day "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, was also a nationally recognized voice against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied her wife, Karen, and their six-year-old daughter, Casey Elena, from receiving military, Social Security, and pension benefits readily offered to the opposite-sex spouses of straight soldiers.
But as of yesterday, all that has changed.
"Being able to be registered in the [Defense Eligibility Enrollment System] has very, very practical service," Morgan explains. "It means that I an receive healthcare benefits. It finally allows me to be recognized as her spouse, in an official capacity. So on her records it will read that she was married rather than single. It also allows me to buried in the veteran's cemetery next to Charlie, which was really important to me. And it gives me access to survivorship benefits, which are veterans benefits and the compensation."