By JIM VINES
After close consultation with the Department of Justice, the Department of Veterans Affairs is providing guidance to same-sex married couples on the benefits and services to which they are entitled under current laws and regulations.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which governed the definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" for all federal agencies. However, there remain certain provisions of federal law governing veterans' benefits and services that, like DOMA, define a spouse as a member of the opposite sex. In September 2013, the U.S. Attorney General announced a directive to cease enforcement of those VA-specific definitional provisions.
Another provision of the law governing VA requires the department to look to the place of residency rather than the place of celebration to determine whether a veterans' marriage is recognized for the purpose of VA benefits. This statutory requirement to look at the laws governing marriage in the place where the veteran or veteran's spouse resided at the time of the marriage, or at the time they filed their claim or application, precludes VA from recognizing certain same-sex marriages. The VA has worked with DOJ to develop guidance to process claims and applications for same-sex married couples while still following the statutory requirement to look to the place of residency.
The VA is committed to treating all veterans and their spouses as equally as possible under the law. Since the Windsor decision, VA has worked with DOJ to develop guidance to process claims and applications for same-sex married couples, while still following the statutory requirement to look to the place of residency. Importantly, the administrations within VA will aim to apply the same level of scrutiny to all veterans' marriages, regardless of whether it is a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage. VA will therefore process claims and applications involving same-sex marriage in the same manner that VA processes claims based on opposite-sex marriage without any additional scrutiny or development.