The Department of Defense will be extending some benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed servicemembers, and will make a formal announcement this week, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The military will likely not be able to extend the full spectrum of military benefits enjoyed by those in traditional marriages, due to the Defense of Marriage Act. In part, this law prohibits the military from spending federal money to provide benefits to same-sex couples.
The current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, however, believes he has identified a number of benefits that can be extended to same-sex partners without running afoul of the law.
The military already conducts casualty notification to same sex spouses, however, and allows same-sex partners to be listed as beneficiaries for SGLI life insurance.
The Supreme Court, however, is scheduled to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act this spring in U.S. v. Winsor. It is expected to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the law by June of 2013. The Obama Administration has elected not to defend the U.S.’s position in the federal court system. If the entirety of the law is determined to be unconstitutional, it may allow the Department of Defense to grant benefits to same-sex couples on par with those in traditional marriages.
What Benefits are Currently Available to Same-Sex Partners of Servicemembers?
While the government cannot generally grant federally-funded benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed servicemembers, the servicemembers themselves may designate beneficiaries of either sex for a variety of programs. These include:
- Benefits under the Post Vietnam-Era Veterans Assistance Program
- The All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program – Active Duty, Death Benefit
- Becoming a Wounded Warrior Designated Caregiver – for recovery periods of longer than 45 days during a 1-year period
- Travel and Transportation Allowance: Attendance of Members and Other Persons at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events
- Travel and Transportation Allowances: Transportation of Designated Individuals Incident to Hospitalization of Members for Treatment of Wounds, Illness, Injury
- Presentation of the Flag of the United States
- Designation as an escort for dependents of deceased or missing members
- Transportation for Survivors of Deceased Member to Attend the Member’s Burial Ceremony or Memorial Service
- Designation of Persons Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD) of Remains of Members of the Armed Forces
Additionally, servicemembers may list same-sex partners as beneficiaries under the following programs:
- Thrift Savings Plan
- Survivor Benefit Plan
- Designation as a Person Having an Interest in Status of a Missing Servicemember
- Veterans Group Life Insurance
- Designation as a Person Eligible to Receive Effects (PERE) of deceased persons
The Congressional Budget Office released a study last November estimating that the broad extension of federal benefits to same sex partners of federal employees would not have a significant impact on the budget, as they expect the number of federal employees who would participate to be small – on the order of 1 percent. That study was limited to looking at the budgeting ramifications of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2011, however, and did not extend its analysis to the military.