DOD To Extend Benefits, Including Health Care, to Same-Sex Spouses
On Wednesday, the Department of Defense announced that it will extend a series of federal spousal and family benefits -- including health care coverage -- to the same-sex spouses of military personnel and civilian DOD employees, the New York Times reports (Huetteman, New York Times, 8/14).
The DOD directive comes fewer than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on federal benefits for married same-sex couples (Hicks, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 8/14).
Background on DOD Directive
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which meant that same-sex couples who are married and living in 13 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal would become eligible for numerous spousal benefits they have been denied. The benefits include:
- Family and medical leave;
- Internal Revenue Service tax credits;
- Survivors' benefits; and
- Tax-free employer-provided health coverage (California Healthline, 8/12).
In February, DOD announced expanded access to certain benefits for same-sex partners of military personnel, but stopped short of providing access to medical and dental coverage
In an accompanying statement, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that while DOMA at the time forbade the extension of full military benefits, he added, "I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation" (California Healthline, 2/12).
The statement noted, "In the event that [DOMA] is no longer applicable to [DOD], it will be the policy of the department to construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents will be granted full military benefits" (New York Times, 8/14).
Availability of New Benefits
DOD said the new benefits will be available to eligible spouses no later than Sept. 3. To qualify for them, couples must provide a valid marriage certificate. The department noted that military personnel and civilian employees can claim the entitlements retroactively, beginning with the date of the Supreme Court's ruling on June 26. Couples living in D.C. and the 13 states who got married before June 26 still will have access to the full range of benefits, according to Reuters (Eckert, Reuters, 8/14).
DOD also said it will offer leave to personnel and employees who need to travel to jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legally recognized so that they will have access to benefits (New York Times, 8/14).
Response to Announcement
In an accompanying memo, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that DOD is "committed to ensuring that the men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs" ("Federal Eye," Washington Post, 8/14).
Stephen Peters -- president of the American Military Partner Association, an advocate for LGBT military families -- said the extension of benefits is "a huge step forward," but the country still has "a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states" (Reuters, 8/14).
However, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) -- ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- issued a statement criticizing DOD's move. He wrote, "Military leave is granted by statute, and while there are special provisions in law for adoptions, child birth and emergency situations, to my knowledge there are no special provisions for marriage, same-sex or otherwise." He added that the Obama administration is "eroding our military's historical apolitical stance by using it as their activism arm for their liberal social agenda."
According to the "Federal Eye," Inhofe previously expressed concern with a draft of the new policy, which he called the "preferential treatment" toward same-sex couples ("Federal Eye," Washington Post, 8/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.