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Department of Veterans Affairs expands survivor benefits to same-sex couples

Greg Nash
A logo of the Department of Veterans Affairs is seen outside their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 3, 2021.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Friday announced an initiative to expand survivor benefits to survivors of LGBT veterans, many of whom were unable to legally wed before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.

Before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, same-sex couples in at least a dozen states were unable to legally marry.

That fact continues to impact survivors of LGBT veterans, who are excluded from VA survivor benefits because their veteran spouse died before their legal union met the department’s length-of-marriage requirements.

Under VA guidelines, a couple must be married for at least one year to qualify for survivor benefits and at least eight years to become eligible to receive a higher rate of benefits.

But on Friday, the department said survivors of LGBT veterans are now able to apply for these benefits. Eligible surviving spouses who apply in the next year will receive benefits backdated to Oct. 11, 2022, the department said.

“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 Friday in a news 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,” he said.

Friday’s announcement is part of a larger effort by the VA to expand protections for LGBT veterans.

The department last year began providing benefits to veterans discharged under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibited LGBT military personnel from sharing or openly acknowledging their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And in January, the VA rolled out a policy allowing veterans to self-select their gender designation on official health records, which now include transgender and nonbinary gender markers.

Tags Denis McDonough Health care LGBT veterans marriage equality survivor benefits Veterans Affairs
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