Wednesday Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, led a bipartisan group of colleagues to reintroduce the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act, to ensure all military families have equal access to the benefits they earned serving our country. The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO), John Conyers (D-MI), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Richard Hanna (R-NY), David Jolly (R-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R- FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Adam Smith (D-WA).
Nearly two years ago a landmark Supreme Court decision struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and effectively extended federal benefits to all legally married couples, including those under the Department of Defense. Yet, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses continue to face obstacles when accessing the VA benefits to which they are entitled. This is due to outdated federal laws governing VA benefits which bar access to benefits for same-sex couples who reside in a state that does not recognize their marriage. The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act aligns the VA laws with other federal agencies ensuring access to federal VA benefits for thousands of deserving military spouses. These benefits include surviving spouse benefits, dependency benefits, and home loans.
“Every military family deserves our respect and admiration for the sacrifices they make on behalf of this great nation, regardless of whom they love or where they live,” said Rep. Dina Titus, Ranking Member of the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. “Our men and women in uniform do not serve in defense of a particular state, but of the United States. That’s why Congress must act now to pass the Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act.”
“This bill is about protecting the right of our nation’s veterans to share the benefits they have earned to the person they have lawfully married,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran. “Veterans have enough to worry about in dealing with the VA. This bill removes one of those worries.”
“Since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court nearly two years ago, we have seen a number of new benefits for same-sex married couples. However, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses continue to be discriminated against,” said Rep. Mark Takano. “The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act rights that wrong, and ensures that our gay and lesbian veterans are receiving the federal VA spousal benefits that they deserve.”
“Military spouses make tremendous sacrifices for our nation. The support they give during a service member’s time in the armed forces and the pain and the loss at a tragedy or a loss is the same no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. “The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act is an important step toward recognizing the contributions of military spouses and ensuring that appropriate benefits are available to all spouses instead of continuing to rely on an outdated set of regulations that do not reflect the society we live in and its ethos of service.”
“While in service they fought for our rights. Now that they’re veterans we should honor theirs,” said Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
“The men and women that serve in our military sacrifice everything to protect us at home. We must do all we can to support them when they return. This bill ensures that no veteran will be denied equal rights because of who they love,” said Rep. Adam Smith.
“Every service-member took an oath and was ready to sacrifice themselves in defense of our country. I am eternally grateful for their service, and their families, who have also borne the hardships of that service. If a couple is legally married, they are entitled to all the benefits of that union, regardless of geography and orientation,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act is supported by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, VetsFirst, and AMVETS. It is also endorsed by the American Military Partners Association, National Military Families Association, OutServe – Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and the Human Rights Campaign.