Military Headlines

Pentagon Silent on Same Sex Benefit Timeline

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Aug 08, 2013
Military.com  |  by Amy Bushatz

Defense officials are unable to say when military benefits will become available to same-sex military spouses, which is causing a lot of misinformation and confusion to circulate throughout the gay and lesbian military spouse community.

"The Department of Defense is working alongside the Department of Justice to implement the Court's decision as quickly as possible," Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement. "At this time no decisions have been made."

Same-sex spouses say that the lack of a timeline has created rampant miscommunication at Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) offices where military spouses and family members must go to be registered as dependents and receive military ID cards.

The information given by DEERS employees regarding when benefits will be made available differs based on who's asked.  Some say there is no timeline at all, same-sex spouses told Military.com.

Same-sex military spouses became eligible for benefits previously reserved for straight married military spouses when the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court June 26.

Defense officials at the time said benefits would become available six to 12 weeks after the department updated its enrollment system. Aug. 7 marked the six-week point.

Meanwhile, same-sex spouses, who will be eligible for benefits such as health care under Tricare and housing allowances, are paying for those things out of pocket as they wait to enroll as dependents.

"Just since DOMA has been repealed we're out of pocket about $2,000 in medical costs, not including insurance premiums," said Ashley Broadway, a same-sex Army spouse at Fort Bragg. "We've had to pull money out of savings to cover my medical costs, and this is money that we were planning to do other things with."

She said the lack of communication about just what is keeping benefits from rolling-out is frustrating and hurtful.

"The DoD is saying that they need to change some kind of computer software. But it's kind of like, really, you guys weren't anticipating this that this could possibly happen and have a plan in place," she said. "In the meantime weeks and weeks are going by and my family is suffering."

Thomas Kostura, who has been legally married to his Active Army Guard husband for two years, agreed.

"I'm disappointed in the delay just because they did seem to be really motivated," he said. "The excitement coming out of the Pentagon was that they were going to do this right away. It makes me feel like the Pentagon does not care about us."

Pentagon officials could easily satisfy families by simply issuing a timeline update, said Stephen Peters, a gay Marine Corps spouse and former Marine who heads the American Military Partner Association. Instead they remain silent.

"We understand that updating systems and guidance takes time," Peters said.  "However, considering it's been six weeks since the SCOTUS decision, it would be extremely helpful for our families who are desperately waiting for access to urgently needed care and support to know just how much longer they have to wait."

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that a previous plan by Defense officials to also offer some benefits to non-married same-sex military partners is under review.