Three days after the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal across the United States, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said that same-sex couples will be eligible for the full scale of benefits that they were previously denied in some states, according to a report by Stars and Stripes. Couples will now be able to collect VA disability pay, death pensions, home loan guarantees and burial rights, the department announced Monday.
“VA will work quickly to ensure that all offices and employees are provided guidance on implementing this important decision with respect to all programs, statutes, and regulations administered by VA,” according to a VA statement.
Previous rules meant that same sex couples would only gain benefits based on the legal status of gay marriage in the state they lived at the time of the union or if the couple lived in a legal state during their military service. But now all barriers to gaining full benefits have been dismantled by the Supreme Court's decision, although some states have said they will challenge the ruling by allowing Clerk's to refusing to issue marriage licenses.
The previous rules that the VA would not offer same-sex couples benefits in states where gay marriage was illegal prompted lawsuits across the country, most of which were put on hold while the Supreme Court made its decision.
Susan L. Sommer, director of constitutional litigation and senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a New York group focused on the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, told Stars and Stripes Monday that the VA had previously taken steps to offer more benefits to same-sex couples after the Obama administration decided in 2011 to no longer fight the defense of marriage act, which effectively barred the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
“But the VA had taken the position that its hands were tied with respect to some benefits that remain very important, including some survivor’s benefits and home loan guarantees,” Sommer said, before adding that Monday’s ruling would affect thousands of veterans across the country.
Over the next 30 days the VA will discuss the ruling and will have to respond to the Federal cases where it is involved with a plan of how it will proceed.