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Respect for All Veterans

by

Senator Mark Udall (D CO)

From repealing the military's harmful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made toward equality for all Americans over the last few years. As a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, I know that this progress has been especially meaningful for those who have defended our country and sacrificed for our freedoms.

As the proud son of a WWII veteran, my parents taught me that our military families have earned our country’s deepest thanks and respect for their selfless sacrifices. But despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that same-sex marriages cannot be treated as second-class under federal law, not all veterans and their families have access to the benefits they have earned.

Indeed, at least one discriminatory law still prevents some military families and veterans from accessing the benefits that others receive. In recent weeks, I have been disappointed to learn that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still does not recognize all same-sex marriages. While the Department of Defense recognizes all legal marriages and civil unions, the VA uses a more strict standard that prevents the formal recognition of many same-sex marriages for the purposes of accessing federal veterans benefits.

In my home state, this unjust policy has already harmed at least one married couple – and there are certainly others who have been hurt. After serving our country in the Air Force for ten years – including four overseas deployments – one Colorado veteran and her wife were recently told that they could not qualify for a VA loan guarantee because the state of Colorado does not recognize their marriage. My constituents were lawfully married in a state that allows same-sex marriage. But even though their marriage is recognized by every other agency in the federal government, they were denied VA benefits.

This kind of discrimination is simply unacceptable. Our veterans, servicemembers and their families keep us safe and protect our freedoms. They deserve our utmost respect and support regardless of who they love or choose to marry.

When I first heard about these families being denied benefits, I wrote to President Obama to request that the VA stop enforcing this unconstitutional discrimination. I asked the president to extend the same directive to this VA policy that has already allowed other agencies to stop enforcing sections of unconstitutional law invalidated by the Supreme Court’s decision.

No other veterans and their families should suffer the hardship and injustice that these Coloradans have had to endure. Please join me in asking the president to take immediate action to extend federal VA benefits to all married couples who have answered the call to serve our country. Our promise to our servicemembers and their families will not be fulfilled until we ensure all veterans have access to the benefits they have earned protecting our nation and the constitutional rights that we cherish.

Mark Udall is Colorado's senior U.S. senator. He serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

2013 GayMilitarySignal