Following Supreme Court Ruling Shaheen Calls for VA to Immediately Extend Benefits to All Same-Sex Veterans

June 26, 2015

Following the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges affirming the right of same-sex couples to marry across the country, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to immediately extend all VA benefits to same-sex veterans. The VA has previously been unable to grant comprehensive benefits to same-sex couples in states that do not recognize such legal marriages.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court affirmed what many of us have long argued: the Constitution guarantees a right to marry to all couples regardless of their sexual orientation or state of residence,” Shaheen wrote to VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “That is why I am urging the VA to act as quickly as possible to implement the spirit of the Court’s decision, and ensure that all veterans’ benefits are awarded to eligible same-sex families.  We have an opportunity to finally honor the service of so many men and woman who have fought to protect the very same freedoms they are now denied as civilians, including my friend Charlie Morgan.”  

Senator Shaheen has been a strong advocate for the rights of LGBT families and LGBT veterans. Earlier this year, Senator Shaheen introduced The Charlie Morgan Act – legislation to address the lingering inequality by altering the definition of marriage in Title 38 of the Service Members Civil Relief Act to ensure that all veterans receive the federal benefits they’ve earned, regardless of their state of residency. The legislation is named after the late New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away in 2013 after a battle with breast cancer. After her passing, Morgan’s wife and daughter were initially ineligible to receive certain survivor benefits until the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

June 26, 2015

The Honorable Robert McDonald                                                                                   

Secretary                                                                                                                                                         

Department of Veterans Affairs                                                                                                                                

810 Vermont Avenue, NW                                                                                                                                

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary McDonald:

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges represents another historic moment in our nation’s civil rights history.  Our highest court has affirmed that all Americans have the right to marry the person they love, regardless of their sexual orientation or where they live.  Consistent with the court’s ruling, I urge you to immediately grant all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits to same-sex couples regardless of their state of residence.

As you know, despite the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, the VA has remained unable to provide full federal benefits to gay veterans and their spouses living in states that previously did not recognize same-sex marriage.  As a result, veterans with identical service records, disability ratings, and family size have received different benefits based on where they live and whom they love.  This clear inequity has not only been an affront to thousands of men and women who have served our nation faithfully in uniform, it has also offended the basic principles of equality and fairness that are the foundation of our legal system.

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court affirmed what many of us have long argued: the Constitution guarantees a right to marry to all couples regardless of their sexual orientation or state of residence.  The Court’s affirmation reflects not only overwhelming public opinion in support of gay rights, but also the position of many in the Executive and Legislative branches of government as well.  In March, 57 Senators voted in favor of extending veterans and Social Security benefits to all eligible same-sex couples, regardless of their state of residency.  Our nation, along with each of its branches of government, has given clear direction that same-sex couples should enjoy equal protection under the law, which should include all appropriate federal benefits.

That is why I am urging the VA to act as quickly as possible to implement the spirit of the Court’s decision, and ensure that all veterans’ benefits are awarded to eligible same-sex families.  We have an opportunity to finally honor the service of so many men and woman who have fought to protect the very same freedoms they are now denied as civilians, including my friend Charlie Morgan.  

I look forward to your response, and I thank you for your service to our nation.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen                                                                      

United States Senator