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Veterans' benefits now available to same-sex spouses

NAELA National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. MEMBER

The attorney general wrote a letter to Congress explaining that the current administration will allow same-sex spouses to receive military benefits. The letter informed Congress of the administration's choice not to enforce a federal law provision that limits veterans' benefits to only opposite-sex spouses. The new rule will allow New Jersey spouses of veterans to receive additional benefits to which they were not previously entitled.

The letter comes two months after the Supreme Court struck down a principal provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that forbade federal government entities from legally recognizing gay marriage. This announcement means that same-sex spouses will be eligible to receive benefits like health care and survivor benefits that were previously only available to heterosexual spouses. A House Republicans legal group that had defended DOMA had stated that it would no longer defend the prior veterans' benefit law that prohibited same-sex spouses from benefiting. Same-sex couples had already challenged the law in court. However, Attorney General Eric Holder said that even though the Supreme Court did not directly address the question of veterans' benefits, the reasoning behind the opinion supports the theory that the provisions are not constitutional.

The decision comes in light of other laws concerning the recognition of gay marriage. The Treasury Department stated that the Internal Revenue Service would begin recognizing same-sex spouses for the purposes of federal tax filings. Even though the Pentagon issued a directive to the contrary, the National Guards for Texas and Mississippi have refused to process requests from same-sex spouses for benefits. The states are relying on their state laws prohibiting gay marriage.

New Jersey elder law attorneys may be able to assist veterans and their spouses. Because the area of law regarding gay rights is constantly changing, attorneys may be able to clarify these provisions to individuals.

Source: Aljazeera America , "Same-sex spouses of veterans to receive federal benefits", September 04, 2013

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