Spouses of veterans deserving of full federal benefits

— The Record Journal of Meriden (Conn.)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should extend full federal benefits to retired military personnel with same-sex spouses.

Continued refusal to do so is irrational. Resistance conflicts with recently established precedents.

Last July, U.S. Supreme Court judges altered portions of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevented gay couples from receiving federal benefits available to people in opposite-sex marriages. Consequently, the Department of Defense on Aug. 14 expanded such rights to all uniformed service members, regardless of sex of significant others.

America’s social tide is turning in favor of greater equality for the gay population. By remaining intractable against this modern wave of civil rights, the VA appears intolerant. For men and women who served their country, this is an unwarranted, reprehensible insult. If department officials extend full benefits to veterans in same-sex marriages, the move, besides being logical, will deservedly acknowledge the efforts and sacrifices of all who spent time in our nation’s service.

And it’s more than a matter of principle. Gay partners denied their federal rights can face difficult monetary and health care hurdles. Bills for medicine or hospital procedures — covered for people in opposite-gender marriages — can become expensive burdens on household budgets. Paying for benefits that should be federally provided is an extra level of stress not experienced by heterosexual couples. Americans, especially veterans, should not have to choose between payment and pain because employers discriminate against certain sexualities.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others have correctly called on the VA to end its policy of prejudice. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki wrote in response to the senator that his agency will continue to recognize only different-gender couples until the Department of Defense or president mandates otherwise. Postponement until higher powers dictate direction is evasion of responsibility.

However, if VA officials are gutlessly passing on accountability to President Obama or the Department of Defense, then either of those offices should order immediate change. Otherwise, an egregious injustice persists against a particular subset of veterans. As aptly argued 18-year Navy veteran Carmen Cardona in an Aug. 16 AP news story, ongoing bias is offensive on several levels: “… the principle, the freedom … We are veterans. We deserve it whether we are gay or heterosexual.”

 

 

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