US Army veteran sues over denial of benefits for same-sex spouse

[JURIST] An Iraq war veteran filed suit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday in the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [official website] after it refused to pay her full disability benefits because she is in a same-sex marriage. Tracy Cooper-Harris, who served in the US Army [official website] for over a decade, argues that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] is unconstitutional because it discriminates against legally married individuals. Cooper-Harris and her wife were legally married in California in 2008. Cooper-Harris has been receiving benefits from the VA since she was honorably discharged in 2003. She suffers from multiple sclerosis and post traumatic stress related to her time in service. The VA denied the veteran the level of benefits received by married persons under DOMA, and instead pay her benefits at the lesser single person rate. Additionally, Cooper-Harris' spouse will not be entitled to receive compensation in the event of Cooper-Harris' death as she would have been entitled to if their marriage was recognized under the federal law.

A similar suit was filed [JURIST report] in Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [official website] in October of last year by a disabled Navy veteran contesting the VA's refusal to allow her same-sex partner to collect a portion of her disability benefits. The veteran, Carmen Cardona, filed the suit after her claim for veterans' spousal benefits was denied under DOMA on the basis that she was in a same-sex marriage. The outcome of these cases is uncertain after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced in February of last year that it would no longer defend the constitutionality [JURIST report] of DOMA in court cases challenging the provision, there is no obligation on federal agencies not to enforce the law. US President Barack Obama [official website] told gay rights activists in October of last year that he would continue to fight for the repeal [JURIST report] of DOMA, reinforcing that the DOJ is not defending its constitutionality.

 

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