The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday it would extend earned benefits to spouses and children of all veterans in all same-sex marriages following the Supreme Court decision Friday legalizing the unions nationwide.
The decision lifts restriction on benefits to VA guaranteed home loans, survivor benefits and burial rights, according to Susan Sommers, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, a legal organization seeking equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
She estimated that thousands of veterans would be impacted by the VA changes.
“I’m very relieved by this news,” Sommers said, adding that veterans in same-sex marriages “shouldn’t be without the same protections that other people in the military can count on for themselves and their families once their service is over.”
The VA said it was pushing out guidance on implementing the changes and that pending benefit-claims cases involving same-sex marriage would be placed on temporarily hold until the guidance is disseminated.
The VA had been barred from granting benefits for veterans in a same-sex marriage who lived in or whose benefit accrued in one of the 37 states where the unions were illegal.
The Supreme Court by 5-4 ruled that disallowing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
“VA may (now) recognize the same-sex marriage of all veterans, where the veteran or the veteran’s spouse resided anywhere in the United States or its territories at the time of the marriage or at the time of the application of benefits,” says a statement issued by the agency Monday.
Sommers said one of the clearest examples of a denied benefit occurred with VA guaranteed home-loans. Veterans in same-sex marriages who sought a VA-backed loan to purchase a home in a state where their marriage was illegal were not eligible as a couple for the benefit.
Other examples include denial of survivor benefits for a spouse or the right to be buried with a veteran spouse in a national cemetery. If any of these benefit claims were raised in states that did not recognize the marriage, the claim could be denied.