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Many same-sex benefits retroactive

Aug. 30, 2013 - 11:28AM   |  
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Army wife Ashley Broadway has paid about $2,000 out of pocket for unexpected medical bills since June, on top of the $350 a month she has been paying for medical insurance.

Until now, as a same-sex spouse, she hasn’t been eligible for Tricare and most other military spouse benefits. But once she gets enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, she will not only be eligible for Tricare, she’ll be able to file for reimbursement for expenses incurred since June 26.

June 26 is the day the Supreme Court ruled to overturn parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

She and her wife, Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack, have made an appointment to get her military spouse ID card on Sept. 3, the first day that ID cards for same-sex spouses will be available. ID card facilities have been gearing up to be ready for the change, directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

DoD will recognize all marriages that are certified with a valid marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage, said DoD spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. “Spousal and family benefits, including ID cards, will be made available to same-sex spouses as of Sept. 3.” That includes military retirees’ spouses. Currently 13 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

For same-sex military couples — included retired couples — married as of June 26, entitlements for medical expenses and some other benefits are retroactive to that day, Christensen said.

That includes entitlements such as housing allowances, family separation allowances and permanent change-of-station moves, also retroactive. Same sex active-duty married couples who have moved since June 26 will be reimbursed for separate expenses incurred by the spouse.

Service members should contact their personnel offices to file entitlement claims, Christensen said. DoD has sent implementing instructions to ID card processing centers as well as to other offices relating to these benefits, he said.

Any claims for expenses before June 26 will not be granted. For service members married after that date, the entitlements begin at the date of marriage.

Retirees also will be able to sign up for coverage for their same-sex spouses under the Survivor Benefit Plan.

That military ID card will allow spouses access to all benefits, such as commissaries and exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation programs.

Broadway, who is director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association, said she’s heard from a number of service members whose personnel offices are already processing their requests for housing allowances, although some are told requests won’t be processed until Sept. 3.

Some married couples already have been allowed to sign up for waiting lists for housing on military installations, Broadway said. They’ve been told that as soon as they are enrolled in DEERS, they could come into to the housing office.

But the week of Aug. 26, Broadway was concerned that troops are not getting a uniform message. “People all over the country are going into offices and hearing all sorts of things,” she said. “With the military, everything has to be cut and dried.”

Broadway cautions that these DoD changes don’t mean that all problems will disappear for same-sex couples. For example, she said, in states that do not recognized same-sex marriage, “I fear some young couples will be denied housing in some off-base areas,” she said.

And there are many small consequences that add up, she said. For example, one couple reported having to each pay $40 for a rental application in their state. If their marriage were recognized, they would have paid $40 as a couple.

“These may seem small, but they are everyday occurrences,” she said.

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