Pentagon Moves to Give Benefits to Gay Spouses

Thursday, 27 Jun 2013 03:37 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The spouses of homosexuals in the military will be among those receiving federal benefits, including being buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon said Wednesday just hours after sections of the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned.

"We will move very swiftly, expeditiously, on implementing the law," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The Pentagon is still reviewing information to determine how much it will cost the Defense Department to include medical, dental, and housing benefits for same-sex partners, reports U.S. News and World Report.

Even though the Defense Department has been slammed by sequestration and forced to make deep budget cuts, including shutting down combat brigades, Hagel said the department "has a responsibility to carry out the law of the land — the decision the Supreme Court gave today — from this place."

Hagel, a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, said the Pentagon welcomes the court's decision, and "intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible."

The benefits will be available to all members of the military, regardless of whether the state where they are stationed allows gay marriages, according to The Washington Times.

Some benefits had already been available for same-sex spouses since 2010, after President Barack Obama signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" bill that prohibited homosexuals from serving openly in the military, reports Time Magazine.

After the repeal, service members could designate gay spouses as beneficiaries for life insurance, as the primary person to be contacted in the event of casualty, and be designated to receive the U.S. flag at a military funeral.

But since the court's DOMA ruling, benefits for same-sex couples will extend rapidly. The most costly changes will involve housing and medical care, Time reports. Medical care, which is virtually free, will be extended to same-sex spouses, who before had to seek medical coverage elsewhere.

In addition, the military's Basic Allowance for Housing will now allow same-sex couples to apply for married housing on base or to receive a housing allowance for living off base.

Same-sex married couples will also be eligible for family separation pay, receiving $250 a month during deployments and temporary duties.

The military will start enacting the changes by updating identification cards for military members and their spouses, said U.S. News, which could take between six and 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military is often construed as being resistant to policy shifts, but "we actually have done what I think is a very credible job of ensuring as much equality as we are able to provide. We will do that when we can for [gay service members and their spouses] within the limits of the law."

He said the Joint Chiefs have made it very clear "that we will follow the law of the land."

"The law of the land has changed, so we will assess as quickly as possible what that means," he said.

Some veterans groups expressed their enthusiasm for the Supreme Court's ruling.

"Today's decision is in fact a victory for the strength of our armed forces," said Derek Bennet, chief of staff for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Support for military families is one of the most critical elements of a strong and healthy fighting force."

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