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Lawmakers press Hagel on same-sex benefits enrollment

Oct. 4, 2013 - 02:04PM   |  
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Two key Democrats are pressing the Defense Department about the refusal of several states to help same-sex military spouses apply for benefits at National Guard installations.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, are asking the Pentagon to “issue further guidance” to states.

In a Sept. 30 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Levin and Smith said the new instructions should be “reaffirming that all military couples must be treated equally” and state National Guard units receiving federal funds “cannot choose to ignore this order by denying some lawfully married military couples equal access to federal benefits to which they are entitled.”

When the letter was written, the National Guard in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas were referring same-sex spouses to federal installations to apply for benefits. Since the letter, the Indiana National Guard stopped processing applications for a legal review and then decided to continue accepting them.

In their letter, Levin and Smith cite the cases of a Texas couple who applied for benefits at an Austin National Guard installation but were denied and advised to travel to the nearest federal installation. That was Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, about 90 miles away, where they would “receive the benefits that were owed and promised to them,” the letter says.

The American Military Partner Association, which is monitoring how same-sex benefits are applied, has been trying to get the Obama administration and DoD to press National Guard units to comply with the change in military benefits that resulted from a June Supreme Court ruling.

Stephen Peter, the group’s president, said National Guard families “are already negatively impacted by the federal government shutdown with canceled or delayed drills, and with most full-time Guardsmen furloughed.” What they don’t need, he said are “roadblocks in place to prevent them from taking care of their families by registering for federal military benefits.”

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