House Representative Tim Walz has introduced the Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act, which could revolutionize the way LGBT veterans and their families are treated as well as the benefits they receive during and post-service.
Currently, LGBT veterans are at risk of being denied survivor and spousal benefits, as well as flag burial honors. The new legislation would guarantee that all veterans and their spouses, regardless of state residence or sexual orientation, would be given equal treatment for equal service.
“When someone puts their life on the line to protect our freedom at home, they deserve to enjoy the same freedom and earned benefits as anyone else who has done so, no matter who they love or where they reside,” Walz said. “This common sense legislation will work to ensure that LGBT veterans and their families are treated equally under the law, no matter what state they live in.”
While axing DOMA back in June was a major success for the LGBT community at large, the overturn does not offer suitable protections for LGBT veterans and their spouses. The Supreme Court’s decision did not apply to Title 38, Section 101 (3) and (31) of the United States Code, which defines a spouse as a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of benefits. Consequently, married LGBT couples are not eligible for benefits, as they do not match the law’s classification of “spouse” and “surviving spouse.”
The other problem that Walz’s proposed legislation could fix is that an LGBT couple’s status as a lawfully married couple depends on the state in which they live. So if they are legally married in California, but during or post-service they move to a state where same-sex marriage is not legal (i.e. Texas, which has a huge veteran population), the law is not required to offer them equal benefits.
Walz is a former military man himself, and served in the Army National Guard for twenty-four years. After retiring under the title Command Sgt. Major, Walz became the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Due to his extensive military background, ensuring equal benefits for all veterans is understandably an important issue to him.