NEW YORK -- After months of advocacy, Lambda Legal announced the Social Security Administration (SSA) paid Robina Asti, a 92-year-old transgender woman, the survivor benefits she was denied after her husband's death.
The agency erroneously denied her benefits after it determined that she was "legally male" at the time of their marriage despite all the legal documents to the contrary.
"We are relieved that Robina's wait is finally over. The SSA acts in mysterious ways and has not issued a written decision in her case, but we are glad that Robina has finally received the benefits that she was owed. Robina Asti filed her claim with SSA in 2012, Lambda Legal has been advocating on her behalf for months, we created a video that was viewed by almost 175, 000 people, and then, miraculously, on Valentine's Day, Robina found that SSA had deposited the money she was owed into her account," said Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director.
"This is great news, but Lambda Legal has received calls from other transgender spouses trapped in SSA limbo, as Robina was. We await changes to SSA policy that would clarify its position on transgender spouses to ensure this does not happen to others, which we are hopeful will soon be released."
"When I saw that the money was in my account, I was so happy. I felt like it was my husband Norwood's Valentine's Day gift to me," Asti said. "I’m glad that Social Security finally came to its senses. I hope this means that other people won't have to experience this."
In a 2004 ceremony in an airplane hangar in Orange County, N.Y., Robina, a World War II veteran and pilot, married her longtime sweetheart, Norwood Patton.
In June 2012, Norwood died at age 97. On July 27, 2012, Robina applied in person for survivor benefits through the SSA. Though Robina already receives Social Security benefits, being able to claim survivor benefits would increase her monthly check by close to $600.
On April 24, 2013, the SSA notified Robina that her survivor benefits under Norwood's Social Security record were denied because "her marriage does not meet the requirements under Federal law for payment of Social Security widow's benefits," stating that her marriage was not valid because she was "legally male" at the time of their wedding.
In June 2013, Lambda Legal filed a request for reconsideration on Robina's behalf. After more than six months of Lambda Legal advocacy on her behalf, Robina received the owed back payments from the Social Security Administration on February 14.
Watch the video of Robina’s story: