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VA SAYS SHAHEEN BILL NEEDED TO ADDRESS DISCRIMINATION

Charlie Morgan Act will grant benefits to same-sex couples

August 27, 2013

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) announced today plans to press forward with the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act after the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated that legislation is still necessary to grant veterans in same-sex marriages benefits for their spouses and families. Earlier this summer, Shaheen asked the Department of Veterans Affairs if legislative action was still necessary in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In a letter responding to her inquiry, Secretary Eric Shinseki acknowledges the VA will need to consider policy changes to comply with current law. Shinseki specifically notes, “Certain provisions in title 38, United States Code, define ‘spouse’ and ‘surviving spouse’ to refer only to a person of the opposite sex.” The Department of Defense has already announced plans to award active duty and civilian couples benefits regardless of “sexual orientation.”

“We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act to bring Department of Veterans Affairs benefits policy in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA. I’m committed to making this happen,” said Senator Shaheen. “Every individual who serves in uniform deserves access to the benefits that they’ve earned and rightfully deserve. We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.”

Shaheen’s legislation would update and expand federal benefits for legally married, same-sex veteran couples including certain survivor benefits by amending the definition of “spouse” in the federal code. The legislation is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who passed away earlier this year after a battle with breast cancer. Morgan’s wife and daughter have not been eligible for certain benefits because of the definition of “spouse” in federal code.  The bill has already cleared the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In the VA’s response to Senator Shaheen, Secretary Shinseki said should the definition of spouse currently in use by the VA be amended to include same-sex couples the VA is “prepared to update its policies and systems in a timely manner and ensure that the delivery and quality of Veterans’ benefits remain at the highest standards.” 

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