(Hartford, CT) – Following Wednesday’s announcement that the Department of Defense will grant equal rights and benefits to all military couples currently serving, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Norwich veteran Carmen Cardona and members of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School in urging immediate action to grant similar equal rights and spousal benefits to all veteran couples.
The Department of Defense announced Wednesday it would extend benefits to same-sex spouses of uniformed service members and civilian employees no later than Sept. 3. The decision came following a review of department benefit policies triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act. While Wednesday’s news extends key benefits to same-sex spouses of active service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to deny key rights and benefits to same sex couples due to statutory language that requires a spouse be a person of the opposite sex to receive veterans’ benefits.
As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Blumenthal has been a vocal advocate on behalf of all veterans seeking timely access to their hard-earned benefits. Last week he hosted a forum with Connecticut veterans whose lives have been significantly harmed due to bureaucratic delays, denials and backlogs in processing benefit claims. In April, he joined a bipartisan group of 67 senators in urging President Obama to take direct action to end the disability claims backlog. He has also urged the Department of Defense not to delay efforts to create a streamlined, coordinated and more efficient electronic health records system.
“I welcome and applaud the decision by the Department of Defense to extend equal benefits to all spouses of service members, but those hard earned rights and benefits should not terminate the moment our heroes exit the service. Veterans like Carmen Cardona risked their lives for our country, supported by spouses who sacrificed at home as their loved ones served abroad. To deny these families equal rights and benefits is a grave injustice unworthy of our great nation. Whether it is correcting harmful statutes denying rights and benefits to same sex couples, or streamlining the dysfunctional bureaucratic processes that have caused years of backlogged veterans claims, we must do better for our veterans. I will continue fight to ensure that all veterans have access to the benefits and services they so deserve,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal this week urged President Barack Obama to immediately direct Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to update VA regulations and swiftly grant full benefits to all veterans and their spouses. In July, Blumenthal joined U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mark Udall (D-Col.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in urging Shinseki to immediately grant benefits to all married veterans. In a response, Shinseki indicated he was awaiting guidance from the President. As a result, Blumenthal, Murphy, Coons, Udall, Gillibrand and Schatz today urged the President to direct Shinseki to update regulations to immediately grant full benefits to all veterans.
Blumenthal has also co-sponsored the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act to eliminate the problematic language defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex for purposes of receiving veterans’ benefits. The bill is currently pending before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee, of which Blumenthal is a member.
Carmen Cardona of Norwich has been fighting to correct this injustice for several years. A disabled Navy veteran, Cardona sought an increase in her disability compensation when she married her wife in 2010, a benefit she would have been entitled to had she married a man. Her claim was denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs citing a federal statute that defines a spouse as a person of the opposite sex. Cardona sued the Department with the assistance of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, and her case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
"This is not just for me, this is for everyone. This is for tomorrow's veterans. We should all have the same benefits and rights no matter who we are married to,” Cardona said.
“When a person makes the courageous decision to serve this country, they serve all of us, regardless of color, creed, or sexual orientation—and they deserve the veterans benefits they’ve earned fighting for our country, period. This means that all veterans’ spouses should receive the benefits they’re entitled to now that provisions of DOMA have been struck down by the Supreme Court,” said Murphy. “I’m proud to support this legislation and will work with Senator Blumenthal to pass it through the Senate.”