Breaking: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Extends Benefits to Same-Sex Partners (Updated)
Karen Parrish at the American Forces Press Service provides an excellent update.
Here are parts.
For the full article please click here.
Military members and retirees with same-sex partners will qualify for up to 24 new benefits under policy changes Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced today.
Two of the new benefits are available at the service member’s election: hospital visitation and Family Readiness Group membership. For 22 other benefits, service members and their same-sex partners may file a “declaration of domestic partnership.” That declaration entitles same-sex partners to military identification cards, commissary and exchange shopping privileges, child care and youth programs, sexual assault counseling and other benefits.
Housing, medical and dental care, and overseas command sponsorship for same-sex partners are not included in this round of policy changes. As Panetta noted in a statement, those benefits are restricted under the Defense of Marriage Act, commonly known as DOMA, which defines “spouse” as someone married to a person of the opposite sex. The Supreme Court is reviewing the law, and is expected to rule on it later this year.
The secretary wrote, “In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”
A senior Pentagon official emphasized in a briefing to Pentagon reporters today that benefit changes will happen as soon as possible. Panetta’s guidance to the services directed they make “every effort” to have systems in place to accept same-sex benefit requests by Aug. 31. In no case, he wrote, may the services delay beyond Oct. 1 in rolling out the benefits.
Rolling out a new benefit takes time, the official said, as regulations and instructions, systems and software all have to be updated, and workers will need to be trained in new processes. “Normally, we’re looking at a year” to make such changes, the official noted. “This is a very ambitious schedule; we’re really pressing hard to do this.”
Another official said the Defense Department is working to see if the housing benefit can be added to the list and is developing a mechanism to allow burial of same–sex partners at Arlington National Cemetery. The domestic partnership declaration isn’t feasible in cases where one or both partners have died, the second official added.
Retirees and their same-sex partners will be able to file the declaration once the new systems are in place. The first official estimated that 5,600 same-sex couples include an active-duty service member, 3,400 include a Reserve or National Guard member, and 8,000 include a retired military member. The cost of implementing the new benefits, the official added, would be negligible.
Seventeen months after ending the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, and just a few weeks after announcing that women can be assigned to combat roles, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today once again made it clear that “discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense,” by announcing significant changes in benefits available to same-sex partners.
In his announcement, the Secretary said:
At the time of [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy. It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.
While there are currently 20 educational, survivor, travel and transportation benefits available by designation to the Service members, the Pentagon identifies 22 additional family member and dependent benefits that can be provided to same-sex domestic partners of Military Service members and their children through changes in Department of Defense policies and regulations.
They include dependent ID cards; commissary and exchange privileges; morale, welfare and recreational programs; youth programs; joint duty assignments; space available travel on DOD aircraft, child care, legal assistance, etc.
In announcing these additional benefits, Panetta says:
Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.
But, Panetta adds:
One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land. There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.
Some of these benefits still not available are health care and housing allowances.
While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible. One of the great successes at the Department of Defense has been the implementation of DADT repeal. It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community. I am confident in the military services’ ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months.
The secretary’s memorandum extending these benefits and lists detailing already available and the new, additional benefits can be viewed here.