Obama gives go ahead for military veterans to receive federal benefits

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Same-sex spouses of military veterans will be allowed to receive federal benefits currently only available to married straight couples, the Obama administration has announced.

In a letter to members of Congress, US Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement, which comes two months after a July ruling by the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and opened up over 1,100 benefits to same-sex married couples.

The announcement on Wednesday means that same-sex spouses of veterans eligible for various benefits, including healthcare and survivor benefits. It was welcomed by advocates of gay rights.

“The Obama administration is doing right by our veterans and faithfully executing the Supreme Court’s opinion,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

Speaking for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group representing veterans interests, has said that he hopes the US Government will move “quickly to implement this change and begins paying veterans and eligible survivors promptly.”

In the letter to various members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, Holder notified them of the decision not to enforce the provision of a federal law which limits the definition of a veteran’s spouse to a member of the opposite sex. As the law is seperate from DOMA, it is not directly affected by the Supreme Court ruling.

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), last week announced that same-sex couples who are legally married will now be recognised for federal tax purposes, irrespective of their home state’s legal position on equal marriage.

Many took the IRS’ decision as a sign of how quickly the US Government will move to treat same-sex couples equally.

The largest retailer in the US, Walmart, earlier last week also announced that it is to offer health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners beginning next year.

The Department of Homeland Security has also said that same-sex marriages, for immigration law purposes, will be treated the same as opposite-sex marriages.

Yesterday, the National Guard in the US states of Texas and Mississippi refused to process benefits requests from Tuesday from same-sex couples, despite a directive from the Pentagon to do so.