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More LGBTQ+ Spouses to Receive Survivors' Benefits, VA Announces

More LGBTQ+ Spouses to Receive Survivors' Benefits, VA Announces

Military couple
Photo by Kelli Hayden/Shutterstock

The Department of Veteran Affairs changed its policy due to previous anti-marriage equality laws.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has closed a gap in survivor benefits for those who were not able to marry a same-sex, now-deceased veteran spouse before the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality ruling and therefore weren't married long enough to qualify.

The VA's minimum length-of-marriage requirement is one year, and higher benefits are available to survivors who were married to a veteran spouse for eight years or more. But a newly announced VA policy recognizes that many couples who were prevented from marrying due to states' anti-marriage equality laws were in marriage-like relationships before the Supreme Court struck those laws down in Obergefell.

Under the new policy, surviving spouses can demonstrate they were in marriage-like relationships by providing evidence such as a commitment ceremony, joint banking account, or joint purchase of a house, according to a VA press release.

The VA's decision is effective immediately, and survivors can apply now for these benefits. Eligible surviving spouses who apply in the next year will receive benefits backdated to October 11, 2022. Otherwise, the benefits are not retroactive.

"VA is closing a gap in benefits for surviving spouses of LGBTQ+ veterans, righting a wrong that is a legacy of the discriminatory federal ban on same-sex marriages," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in the press release. "It is VA's mission to serve all veterans -- including LGTBQ+ veterans -- as they've served our country, and this decision is a key part of that effort."

LGBTQ+ groups praised the move. "Fighting for equal access to benefits and support is a large part of why our organization exists and it is so refreshing to have VA leadership that are finally listening and taking action," Jennifer Dane, CEO of the Modern Military Association of America, told The Advocate via email. "We need more government leaders joining the march toward equality for all."

"LGBTQ veterans have served their country -- and continue to serve -- in every branch of the U.S. military, and they and their families have earned survivor benefits," Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, added in a press release. "When we met with VA Secretary Denis McDonough in June, this was one of several issues that we discussed. We're grateful that the department is taking action and that the families of LGBTQ veterans will have access to this important and well-deserved benefit."

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