DoD Sets Date to Extend Same Sex Benefits, Leave

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The Defense Department announced Wednesday that same-sex military couples will begin to receive benefits such as health insurance and additional housing allowance no later than Sept. 3.

Pentagon officials issued a release Wednesday morning in which it confirmed the "Defense Department will make spousal and family benefits available no later than Sept. 3, 2013 regardless of sexual orientation, as long as the servicemember-sponsors provide a valid military certificate."

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had announced in February the Defense Department would extend certain benefits to same sex partners. On June 26, the Supreme Court repealed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and qualified same-sex military spouses for benefits previously reserved for straight, married military spouses.

On Sept. 3, the Defense Department will set entitlements such as Tricare enrollment, basic allowance for housing, and family separation allowance retroactive to June 26, according to the Pentagon release. Claims for entitlements before that date will not be granted, the Defense Department stated.

The announcement followed a Defense Department review with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies. It followed plenty of confusion within the gay and lesbian military spouse community over when the benefits would begin.

"The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs," the announcement read.

A Marine Corps wife, Lori Hensic, who married her wife in California, said the announcement quells some of the anxiety in regards to when the benefits will start.

"I was relieved to hear there would be an announcement made confirming the date our marriage will finally begin to be recognized by the military, and we will be extended the long overdue the same benefits other married couples have been fortunate to have received for years," said Hensic.

As part of the announcement, the Defense Department confirmed it will also grant up 10 non-chargeable days of leave to same-sex military couples who must travel to a different jurisdiction in order to get married.

Thirty-seven states do not allow same-sex couples to be married. Others stationed outside of the continental U.S. must also travel to certain states to get married. In recognition of this, the military has offered the additional days of leave to travel to a state that does allow for it.

A servicemember in a same-sex relationship must be assigned to a duty station located at least 100 miles from a U.S. state that allows same-sex couples to marry to qualify for the leave. Servicemembers in the continental U.S. may be granted non-chargeable leave for a period up to seven days. Those outside the continental U.S. may be eligible for a period up to 10 days.

"This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to get married," Defense Department officials wrote in the release.

Hensic said the leave will help servicemembers in same-sex relationships travel to the states that will allow them get married. However, she is worried about the junior enlistees who might have to pay for longer trips such as those stationed in Hawaii. Overall, though, Hensic said it was a step in the right direction.

"Extending 10 days of leave to these individuals is much appreciated and will certainly assist these couples with travel to one of the 13 marriage equality states so they can get married," she said.

The American Military Partner Association commended the announcement of the Sept. 3 date to extend benefits as well as the addition of non-chargeable leave to allow servicemembers to travel. However, the president of AMPA said his organization expects further challenges as this process continues.

"The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support," said Stephen Peters, president of AMPA, in a statement. "While this is a huge step forward in making sure our same-sex military spouses have equal access, we still have a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states."

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