Now Eligible for All Benefits
If you haven’t heard about the supreme court ruling on same-sex marriage, you must be living in a cave in the woods. While news of the ruling has been plastered all over social media for days, there is an aspect to this ruling that has not had much coverage. Humorously, the ruling’s implications for individuals with concealed-carry permits has had more coverage than the ruling’s effects on our nation’s veterans. Previous to the ruling, the VA had not been able to provide VA benefits to the spouses of veterans in same-sex marriages if they were currently living or using the benefits in a state where same-sex marriage is illegal. That has all changed, along with a host of other things.
Since the Supreme Court declared disallowing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, same-sex marriage has essentially become legal throughout the United States. For the VA, this means that there is no longer a restriction on who can receive those benefits. While the veterans themselves generally have access to their benefits, any benefits that involve the veteran’s spouse were not available to those in same-sex marriages. They are now. Susan Sommers, the director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, gave the following quote to USA Today:
“I’m very relieved by this news,” Sommers said, adding that veterans in same-sex marriages “shouldn’t be without the same protections that other people in the military can count on for themselves and their families once their service is over.”
At the moment, any pending benefits claims involving same-sex marriages are on hold at the VA because the VA will be pushing out policy and guidance on how to implement the changes from the ruling. As long as the veteran or veterans resided in the United States at the time of marriage or at the time of the application of benefits, no same-sex couple should be denied benefits based on the legality of their marriage. While this might seem fairly simple and straightforward, the VA will need to issue some guidance to their benefits handlers to make sure that all the cases are handled in the same correct way.
Before this ruling came down, one of the hardest benefits for same-sex couples to use was the VA loan benefit, since a veteran and his or her spouse can get a loan together and have the guarantee calculated off the full amount, while two “unmarried” individuals would have to use a joint loan, in which only the half covered by the veteran would be used to calculate the guarantee. As of the writing of this article, there has not been specific information provided on whether a lender can refuse to underwrite a VA loan on the basis that the couple is same-sex, but it’s doubtful that that will be allowed.
Same-sex spouses also had difficulty accessing death pensions, disability pay, and burial rights if they were living in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriages. There may still be some issue, however, because some states have said that they will allow clerks to refuse to issue a marriage license. All of the effects of this historic ruling have not been realized, and it will depend on states’ reactions to the ruling to determine how easy it is to get a same-sex marriage license in states that previously did not recognize them. The VA has always worked to get veterans their benefits regardless of their sexual orientation or life choices, but their hands were previously tied by the Defense of Marriage Act.
While I think most would agree that a veteran’s military service shouldn’t be ignored and his or her benefits denied on the basis of sexual orientation, the full implications and consequences, both good and bad, of the Supreme Court’s ruling have yet to be realized. For more information on how to use your VA loan benefits, contact us at Low VA Rates and we’ll give you the most current information we have. You can also check out our FAQ on our website or our YouTube channel to look for answers to specific questions. We will be happy to answer any of your questions, and thank you for your service!