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Even as gay and lesbian servicemembers consider what the end of the Defense of Marriage Act will mean to their careers and personal lives, the Pentagon, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Congress must try to gauge the financial ramifications the law changing.
Some estimates indicate marriage equality has an immediate impact on about 17,000 servicemembers and veterans. Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said there is no way to tell exactly how many men and women will be affected, nor for that matter how much it will cost, since the number of military gays and lesbians now married will only change.
"It's not just who is married now," she said. "It's how many will be getting married."
More currently serving gays and lesbians are likely to marry now, she said, and more civilian gays and lesbians who already are married may choose to serve.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, at a press conference on the day DOMA became history, said he had read the Supreme Court's decision but was unable to say what the broad impact would be, including the costs.
On Capitol Hill, a spokesman for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the Congressional Budget Office should have some numbers to give lawmakers later this month. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he can't know until he hears back from the Department of Veterans Affairs what the change means for the VA's budget and what Congress may do.
"I have requested that VA provide the committee its impact analysis of how the decision will affect VA benefits and services," he said in a statement. "Until VA's review is complete, any talk of legislative actions in response to the Supreme Court's ruling is premature."
The Supreme Court's decision to eliminate DOMA allowed the federal government – including the military – to treat married couples the same regardless of their sexual orientation. Gay military spouses may now enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, the DoD database of servicemembers, retirees, dependents and others entitled to military benefits, including TRICARE.
Gay married couples may now receive benefits such as on-base housing, health care, family separation allowance, command-sponsored visas, legal assistance and permanent change of station moves with the DoD picking up the cost of the spouse travel. Overall, there are more than 100 benefits – big and small –that spouses of gay troops will be eligible with the end of DOMA.
In March, Politico cited an Outserve-SLDN report stating that 70 percent of a servicemember's compensation comes in the form of benefits. Thus, the more benefits extended to spouses of gay troops, the greater tab to be picked up by DoD. The report estimates that gay couples are paying more than $5,600 out of their own pocket to provide health care insurance for a same-sex partner.
The VA can expect to see an increase in its budget for entitlements, which not only includes disability compensation for veterans, but dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which also may be transferred to spouses.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which has long opposed extending any benefits to gay spouses, told Politico that the DoD "has not provided any estimates of costs involved if all marriage benefits, including medical benefits, are extended to same-sex couples."
"Nor have they estimated the consequences for non-monetary changes, such as access to scarce space-available transportation for families," she told Politico.
At OutServe-SLDN, Robinson said any increased costs related to gay military spouses and veterans is simply the cost of supporting the U.S.
"We as a nation … take care of those who put their lives on the line for us," she said. "For any individual or any organization to even raise the issue of costs of supporting gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families, it really shows their opposition for exactly what it is. It's not about the cost. It's about their prejudice."
But in an environment of end strength reductions and furloughs, many stakeholders would suggest that the burden of cost cannot be ignored.
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