Walz Introduces Bill to Ensure Freedoms are Protected for LGBT Veterans & Families
Washington, DC [11/20/13] – Today, Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced the bipartisan Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Walz legislation would correct an injustice for LGBT veterans and their families to ensure that they receive equal treatment for equal service. Currently LGBT veterans, spouses, and their families, depending on where they reside, can be denied survivor benefits (including but not limited to death pensions, life insurance, educational assistance, and bereavement counseling), spousal benefits, and flag burial honors. According to the Associated Press, veterans and their families are already being denied same-sex benefits in certain states, such as Oklahoma.
“When someone puts their life on the line to protect our freedom at home, they deserve to enjoy the same freedom and earned benefits as anyone else who has done so, no matter who they love or where they reside,” Representative Walz said. “This common sense legislation will work to ensure that LGBT veterans and their families are treated equally under the law, no matter what state they live in.”
The Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) overturned Title 7, Section 3, of United States Code (U.S.C.), which stated that the federal government interpreted the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to only apply to heterosexual couples. However, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA does not apply to Title 38, Section 101 (3) and (31) of the U.S.C. This Section includes a definition of spouse as a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of benefits given.
Therefore, LGBT veterans face two hurdles which prevent them from receiving the same benefits as their fellow veterans.
- First, LGBT couples do not meet the definition of “spouse” and “surviving spouse” and do not receive benefits. Spouse is currently defined in U.S.C. Title 38 as a marriage between one man and one woman.
- The second issue relates to the state in which an LGBT couple is married versus the state in which they live. For example, if an LGBT couple is married in Minnesota (where gay marriage is recognized) but resides in Wisconsin (where gay marriage is not recognized), under current law, they are not necessarily afforded the same VA benefits as same-sex couples in Minnesota. Additionally, if an LGBT couple resided in Minnesota, married legally in Minnesota, but then moved to a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized, they may not receive the same benefits as other veterans.
Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act fixes these problems. This legislative fix will make an immediate difference in the lives of LGBT veterans and their families.
Representative Walz served for 24 years in the Army National Guard and retired as Command Sgt. Major. He is the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress and a member of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee.