Despite the efforts of the U.S. military since World War II to exclude LGB people, many have honorably served in uniform—yet find their partners in old age cut from the financial security represented by survivor benefits. Further, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a variety of benefits to veterans' heterosexual spouses, including pensions paid to the spouse of a service member killed in combat, medical care and home loan guarantees. These benefits are not available to same-sex couples and impact them in significant ways.
The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)" does not change whether someone is eligible for VA benefits. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to determine a service member's eligibility for benefits based on factors such as time served, discharge characterization and disability rating. Veterans, however, may petition to upgrade their discharge characterizations, which may have been negatively impacted by DADT. As a result of an upgraded discharge characterization, veterans may be eligible for benefits to which they otherwise may not have been entitled. That being said, the VA may also make an independent determination of a service member's discharge characterization, which may be used to determine the benefits to which the now veteran is entitled.
LGBT veterans have always been able to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity without risking the loss of benefits or retirement. However, until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and/or military rules and regulations are changed, numerous benefits based on marital status are unavailable to legally married veterans and their same-sex partners.
Benefits available to the heterosexual spouses of veterans—such as bereavement counseling, death pensions, vocational training, education, certain medical care, home loan guarantees and a burial flag—are not available to same-sex partners. Additionally, same-sex couples are not eligible for the needs-based death benefit paid to an un-remarried surviving spouse of a deceased wartime veteran.
Veterans' hospitals fall under federal law and therefore do not recognize same-sex partners or families of choice, raising issues about visitation rights and medical decision making if a veteran obtains medical services through these providers. However, the VA Caregiver Support program provides family caregivers (including domestic partners and same-sex spouses) with training, technical support, counseling and other benefits.
Disabled veterans are entitled to various types of compensation for service-connected disability or death and pensions for some non-service-connected disabilities. Generally, veterans receive additional benefits if they are married or have dependent children, but DOMA and/or military rules and regulations makes these increased payments unavailable to married same-sex spouses or same-sex spouses of disabled veterans.
By regulation, the VA is not permitted to perform or pay for sex reassignment surgery. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a directive in June 2011 articulating a policy of fair and equal treatment for transgender veterans that confirms coverage for medically necessary healthcare for transgender veterans, such as sex-specific care like mammograms and pap smears and transition-related care like hormones and mental health services.
To learn more about veterans issues and LGBT elders, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 202-640-2705 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see what events are coming up at SAGE, visit our calendar.
National Telephone Discussion Group For LGBT Military Service Veterans Aged 60+
New group to launch in June 2013