The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that survivorship benefits will be provided to the surviving spouses of certain lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) Veterans. In 2015, same-sex marriage was made legal nationwide with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The historic Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land, changing the lives of millions of people who could now marry the person they love. However, there are many long-term partners of deceased LGBTQ+ Veterans who were unable to receive survivorship benefits because it was not legal for them to be married.
“VA is closing a gap in benefits for surviving spouses of LGBTQ+ Veterans, righting a wrong that is a legacy of the discriminatory federal ban on same-sex marriages,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “It is VA’s mission to serve all Veterans, including LGTBQ+ Veterans as well, as they’ve served our country, and this decision is a key part of that effort,” he said.
The VA last year began providing benefits to Veterans discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of military service, which prohibited LGBTQ+ military personnel from sharing or openly acknowledging their sexual or gender identity.
In January, the department rolled out a policy allowing Veterans who identify as transgender or nonbinary to self-select their gender designation on official health records, which now include transgender and nonbinary gender markers. This change helps VA healthcare providers better understand and meet the medical needs of their patients.
“All Veterans, all people, have a basic right to be identified as they define themselves."