Last week, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire re-introduced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, federal legislation that would expand access to benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for same-sex spouses of veterans. Currently, federal law restricts the VA’s ability to provide these benefits to some spouses, because it only allow the agency to provide benefits to a veteran’s spouse if the couple lives in a state that recognizes their marriage. This means that, in the thirteen states without marriage recognition, a veteran’s same-sex spouse is barred from accessing any of the benefits provided to spouses by the VA. Senator Shaheen’s bill would require the VA to recognize the same-sex spouse of any veteran, as long as the couple’s marriage was legally entered into in the state or country where it was celebrated.
Senator Shaheen’s bill would bring the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in line with how the vast majority of federal agencies recognize spouses. Currently, the VA is one of only a handful of agencies that determine a spouse’s eligibility for federal benefits based on whether the couple’s marriage is recognized in the state where they live. Under most federal agencies and programs, a spouse is eligible for benefits as long as the couple’s marriage was legally entered into in the state or country where it occurred.
Currently, there are an estimated one million lesbian and gay veterans living in the United States, and approximately 48,000 servicemembers on active duty who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. A large number of these servicemembers and veterans are married, and many are raising children. If passed, Senator Shaheen’s bill would help ensure that these families are able to access the benefits and protections provided to spouses and children by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs — regardless of the state where they live. As Senator Shaheen said, “No one who has served in uniform and fought for our country should be denied the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”