The Department of Veterans Affairs has ordered an Iraq war veteran to pay back federal benefits she earned for her wife and child, claiming that she was issued them by mistake, since her home state of Texas does not recognize her marriage.
After serving in the military for five years, including during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Melissa Perkins-Fercha left active duty and received a 50 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, reports LGBT organization the American Military Partner Association. Perkins-Fercha and her wife traveled to Washington to legally marry in 2012, and in 2014, her wife gave birth to the couple's daughter in El Paso, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Perkins-Fercha added her wife and daughter as dependents on her VA benefits plan, according to AMPA.
In response, the VA sent a letter informing Perkins-Fercha that it could not legally add her wife and child as dependents because the couple lived in Texas, which does not recognize same-sex marriages. But the VA apparently failed to remove the dependents from Perkins-Fercha's record, meaning the benefits she received included compensation for her wife and child, according to AMPA.
Perkins-Fercha twice appealed the VA's denial of her family, but it wasn't until this month that she received another letter informing her that all of her disability benefits would be withheld until the compensation which the VA mistakenly overpaid was "paid back in full," reports AMPA.
"I was shocked, angry, and hurt all at once," Melissa Perkins-Fercha told AMPA. "Who are they to tell me that my marriage is not valid and my daughter is not mine? More importantly, how does the rest of the federal government recognize my marriage and daughter but the Department of Veterans Affairs does not?"
Even though a federal court in 2013 struck down Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which denied veterans with same-sex spouses equal benefits, and the Department of Justice stopped enforcing that portion of law in September 2013 in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act that year, Title 38 is still being used to deny equal spousal benefits to veterans who live in states without marriage equality.
"Nothing angers me more than to find out a veteran is being denied earned veterans benefits and compensation for the sole reason they live in a state that does not respect their marriage or family," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "No veteran should be treated like this. Melissa put her life on the line for our country, and now our country is telling her that her family doesn't count just because her spouse happens to be the same sex."
In August 2014, AMPA filed a federal lawsuit against the VA's continued reliance on Title 38 to deny veterans in non-marriage states equal benefits, which is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.