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Victory! The VA now officially recognizes same-sex marriage, benefits

Today Lambda legal has announced that they are ending litigation against the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) after that department amended policies which will now include LGBT military personnel and their spouses.

Lambda Legal has confirmed that the new policies are consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized same-sex marriage in June of 2015.

“We are very pleased that now, nationwide, gay and lesbian veterans who have served their country and risked the ultimate sacrifice for their nation -- all while facing discrimination against them -- will have access to deserved and long-awaited benefits,” said Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation at Lambda Legal. “Married veterans and their spouses, regardless of their sexual orientation or where they live, will now have the critical veterans’ benefits they need to take care of their families.”

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996 was a federal law that defined marriage as the union of "one man and one woman," and that definition was also used to apply to those serving in the military.

However, in June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), in the case of United States vs. Windsor, found that DOMA was a violation of Fifth Amendment Rights and military benefits should be provided to all married couples provided they could meet certain requirements.

Complications became further tangled because some states did not recognize same-sex marriage and therefore service members, some living in anti-LGBT states, where put on hold until a resolution could be reached to mend this loophole.

On June 26, 2015, SCOTUS ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges, and ordered that all states must now issue marriage licenses to both heterosexual couples as well as homosexual couples.

Today, the VA officially recognizes same-sex couples regardless of which state they reside.

The process will still be the same for applying for benefits. People who claim to be married will generally be accepted, but the VA may still investigate if they feel the information is unreliable.

Lambda Legal and the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) have worked tirelessly to amend discriminatory veteran policies which exclude the LGBT community, but today they celebrate another victory for LGBT people nationwide.

“The new VA policies pave the way for veterans and their same-sex spouses, no matter where they live, to access such important rights as survivors benefits, home loan guarantees, and burial together in national cemeteries,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of AMPA. “We are happy to see more barriers to equality for LGBT servicemembers, veterans and their families fall.”

The VA has updated their website to include more information on how gay and lesbian military personnel are now included in their policies:

Here is an excerpt from that updated information: "VA is dedicated to serving all eligible Servicemembers, Veterans and their families and providing them the benefits they have earned. We encourage all Veterans in same-sex marriages who believe they are entitled to benefits (including those whose claims were previously denied on a ground related to their marriage) to promptly apply for benefits."

The VA’s guidance for the public is available HERE.

The VA’s internal guidance to its staff can be accessed HERE.

Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.