by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
In their ongoing review of military benefits in connection with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Defense Department officials have now identified a total of 14 benefits where service members may designate beneficiaries of their choosing - regardless of sexual orientation.
'We listed eight member-designated benefits in our original Quick Reference Guide, released September 20. We've now validated an additional six,' said Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. 'While these are not 'new,' now that we've confirmed these additional benefits, we're updating the Quick Reference Guide to ensure all are aware of their beneficiary options.'
In other words, Gay and Lesbian service members who were legally married in states where same-sex marriage is legal, or who've entered a domestic partnership or civil union, may legally designate 14 benefits to their partner.
The 14 benefits identified for members to designate whomever they wish as beneficiaries are:
o Service Members Group Life Insurance beneficiary,
o Post Vietnam-era Veterans Assistance Program beneficiary,
o All-volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program - Active Duty Death Benefit beneficiary,
o Death Gratuity beneficiary,
o Final Settlement of Accounts,
o Wounded Warrior Designated Caregiver,
o Thrift Savings Plan beneficiary,
o Survivor Benefit for retirees,
o Casualty Notification,
o Escorts for Dependents of Deceased or Missing,
o Designation of Persons Having Interest in Status of a Missing Member,
o Veterans' Group Life Insurance beneficiary,
o Person Eligible to Receive Effects of Deceased Persons, and
o Travel and Transportation Allowance: Attendance at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration events.
Eligibility for a number of other benefits, including on-base housing and tax-free commissary shopping, is restricted due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
'Unfortunately, this announcement does nothing to move the ball forward on the issue of providing equal benefits, recognition, and family support for legally married Gay and Lesbian families,' said Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. 'The benefits outlined were, in fact, available even before the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Again, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network calls upon Secretary Panetta to confer now all the benefits and recognition he is authorized to extend to Gay and Lesbian servicemembers and their families under current law.'
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a non-partisan, non-profit legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed DADT law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. Since 1993, their in-house legal team has responded to more than 11,000 requests for assistance.
SLDN sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in August, outlining benefit and family support programs that can be extended under current law without coming into conflict with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or other federal statutes. On October 27, SLDN filed a constitutional challenge in federal court in order to secure equal benefits, recognition, and family support for all military families.
'We are not advocating any special treatment for the families of Gay and Lesbian service members or veterans, but we want to underscore that all military families should be treated the same when it comes to recognition, benefits, and family support,' said Sarvis.
Lainez concluded that 'the Defense Department is engaged in a careful and deliberate review of the possibility of revising the eligibility for additional benefits, if legally permitted.'
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