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Military extending benefits to gay spouses

Also offering leave for same-sex marriage

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gay spouses of service members and Pentagon civilians will begin receiving military benefits by Sept. 3 as long as they have a valid marriage certificate, the Defense Department announced Wednesday, clearing up months of confusion over the policy.

Same-sex spouses and immediate family members will have access to military health insurance, on-base grocery and retail stores, housing allowances and all other benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

In addition, the Pentagon will allow up to 10 days of leave for gay service members to travel to one of the 13 states that permit same-sex marriage to get married if they are stationed more than 100 miles from one of those states.

The news comes nearly two years after the Pentagon ended "don't ask, don't tell," its longtime ban on open homosexuals — and just in time for gay service members like Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerrel Revels, who proposed to his boyfriend, Dylan Kirchner, this week when his submarine, the USS New Mexico, docked at Groton, Conn., after a six-month deployment.

"I've been away from this dude for about six months now and there's just a point where I realized I didn't want to be away from him anymore or let him get away," Petty Officer Revels said, according to a report by NBC Connecticut.

Still, when Mr. Kirchner announced their nuptial plans on Facebook, some social media commenters responded with "Yuck" and "And this is normal/acceptable?"

The Pentagon had announced in February that same-sex domestic partners would begin receiving some benefits between Aug. 31 and Oct. 1 if they signed a form declaring they were in a committed relationship.

The policy follows the Supreme Court's overturning part of the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26.

Benefits will be applied retroactively to June 26 to gay couples who were married on or before the date of the Supreme Court ruling. No claims for entitlements will be granted before that date.

For same-sex personnel married after June 26, their entitlements will begin on the date of their marriage.

"The Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve our country and their families are treated fairly and equally," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo.

Officials estimate there are about 17,000 same-sex couples in the military.

Before Wednesday's announcement, gay military spouses had faced uncertainty and confusion about how and when they would begin receiving benefits.

Pentagon officials had said that the database for managing benefits needed to be updated, regulations needed to be amended, new ID cards must be issued and administrative personnel needed to be trained with regard to the changes in policy.

"The system has to be uploaded the [information technology] system has to be fixed and changed, and that does take time," a defense official said during a background briefing. "They have to change [computer] code in the system. That does take time."

"Normally you're looking at usually a year, eight months to a year. So this is a very ambitious schedule. We're really pressing hard to do this as quick as possible. We're pushing for August," the official said.

When Ashley Broadway recently tried to register as a military dependent under the Pentagon's benefits program, she ran into complications experienced by other spouses of gay troops.

"I basically got five different statements back," said Ms. Broadway, director of family affairs at the American Military Partner Association. "There's no clear guidance to anyone."

Ms. Broadway, who is married to Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack and was chosen as Fort Bragg's Military Spouse of the Year, has paid at least $2,000 out of pocket for medical care this year because she was unable to access her wife's military health insurance, even though they have been married since November, have been together for 15 years and have two children.

She will be able to be reimbursed retroactively from June 26.

"Do we really require a whole re-programming of the entire system just to be added as spouses and children who both check the same gender box? Did it require a new set of mathematic equations or going back to hieroglyphics to interpret this same-sex phenomenon?" Navy spouse Adaire Salome wrote in an Aug. 11 post on the American Military Partner Association's blog.

Ms. Salome was ecstatic Wednesday over the Pentagon announcement.

"That is fantastic news," she said. "While it shows the glaring absurdity towards winning the right to marry state by state, there is hope we are all getting there," she said.

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