On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it is “a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” Section 3 of DOMA essentially defined “marriage” and “spouse” for the purposes of federal statutes and regulations to mean only a legal union between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples were ineligible, therefore, for spousal benefits associated with numerous federal programs regardless of whether their state legally recognized the marriage. The opinion can be accessed at United States v. Windsor.
The question is what impact will this have on benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for same-sex couples? I suspect we will know the answer shortly. On December 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ordered that a decision in Cardona v. Shinseki be “stayed pending resolution of Windsor or until further order of the Court.” This case involves dependency benefits a female Navy veteran who legally entered into a same-sex marriage in Connecticut. Given that 38 U.S.C. § 101(31) defines “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a wife or husband,” I anticipate we’ll see a similar outcome to that in United States v. Windsor.
If you have questions regarding your claim for disability compensation before the VA, please do not hesitate to contact me at sdirector@FRE-L.com or via telephone at (732) 382-6070.