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Thursday, September 5, 2013

LA Judge: VA Can’t Deny Disability Benefits to Gay Marriage Spouse of Army Vets

Image gives credit to Carolyn Kaster / AP / Corbis.
A Los Angeles judge on Thursday has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affair (VA) cannot deny disability benefits to a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse in line with the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In a case heard by the U.S. District Judge, Consuelo Marshall, regarding a lesbian army veteran and her spouse, who were denied of disability benefits by the Department of Foreign Affairs (VA), she cited in her ruling that a federal code defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional “under rational basis scrutiny,” since the high court’s decision allowing legally married gay couples the right to health care benefits, the reports said.

"The court finds that the exclusion of spouses in same-sex marriages from veterans' benefits is not rationally related to the goal of gender equality," Marshall further noted in her ruling.

The army veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and her spouse, were seeking additional disability benefits due to all married veterans but the VA denied their application.

Cooper-Harris and her spouse Maggie Cooper-Harris got married in California during a brief period in 2008 when same-sex marriage was made legal in the state.

Accordingly, the couple’s Los Angeles long-term disability lawyer has claimed that they would receive about $150 more a month in disability payments. However, the Justice Department had asked for Cooper-Harris’ case to be dismissed on the grounds that claims involving veterans can only be heard by an administrative Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Nevertheless, Marshall assured that the case could still move forward.

Unfortunately for the couple, the current law on VA benefits specifically defines spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex. Meaning, same-sex couples are barred from accessing such benefits as disability and pension payments.

Meanwhile, the VA secretary, Eric Shinseki assured that while the Congress has not yet took up a bill to change the current definition of spouse, the agency is open for any modifications and is prepared to welcome any policy updates.

Consequently, the Defense Department has once again affirmed that same-sex spouse of military members will be eligible for the same benefits that opposite-sex spouse military members receive starting on September 3, according to reports.