VA still waiting on granting same-sex couples benefits

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WASHINGTON Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says Congress or the courts still has more work to do before the VA can provide federal benefits to married, same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that a law denying federal tax, health and pension benefits to married-same-sex couples was unconstitutional. However, the law governing veteran's benefits contained similar provisions. It specifically defines spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex.

Shinseki said that, so far, no court has deemed that particular provision unconstitutional, though three federal cases are pending. Nor has Congress taken up a bill to change the definition of spouse.

Shinseki told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in a letter that the VA supports a bill she has sponsored that would open up veterans benefits to all married couples.

Last February, Shinseki used his discretionary authority to allow the same-sex spouse of a member of the military to be buried at Williamette National Cemetery in Oregon. The couple was the first wives to be buried next to each other in a national cemetery.

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