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Judge: VA Must Offer Married Same-Sex Couples Equal Benefits

600px-US-DeptOfVeteransAffairs-Seal.svgUS District Judge Consuelo Marshall has ruled that a federal code governing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which defines a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional “under rational basis scrutiny” as backed up by the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Judge Marshal’s ruling paves the way for married LGBT veterans to get spousal benefits including disability benefits. The ruling came down a few days after Veterans Affairs stated that they could not extend spousal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Judge Marshal
wrote in his ruling that “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.”

The ruling comes down in favor of Iraq veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris and her wife. They were denied the benefits and additional monies that opposite-sex couples receive with regards to disabilities. Tracey Cooper-Harris suffers from multiple sclerosis. She already receives disability benefits, but only as a single person.

Tracey and Maggie Cooper-Harris married in California back in 2008. According to their attorney, they should be eligible for an additional $150 in disability payments and Maggie Cooper-Harris should get $1,200 a month in survivors benefits if her wife Tracey passes away.

The Justice Department tried to have the case tossed out saying that the claims could only be heard by an administrative Board of Veterans’ Appeals, but Marshall disagreed.

The law on VA benefits specifies that a spouse is someone of the opposite sex, but VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) that no court had ruled on the issue, and if it was deemed to be unconstitutional, the VA would update its policies.

The active military is preparing to offer married same-sex couples benefits beginning this upcoming September.

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