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Veterans Affairs extends benefits to gay couples in all 50 states

Thanks to the Supreme Court's nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage last week, gay veteran couples in all 50 states will now have access to marital benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the department announced Monday.

"VA will work quickly to ensure that all offices and employees are provided guidance on implementing this important decision with respect to all programs, statutes, and regulations administered by VA," the department explained in a statement.

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Previously, gay couples were only eligible for VA marital benefits if they lived in a state in which gay marriage was legal at the time of their wedding, according to Stars and Stripes, or if they lived in such a state while they were serving in the military.

In 2013, benefits were extended to gay partners of most federal employees when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of a man and woman. That change did not extend to veterans, however, because of language in the federal code that governs veterans benefits.

According to the Washington Post, Title 38, Section 103C of the Code of Federal Regulations "recognized the validity of a marriage only in the state where the veteran lives."

That meant gay couples in the 13 states that still prohibited same-sex marriage before Friday's ruling were unable to access marital benefits. Now, those couples will have access to the same benefits - home loan guarantees, pensions, burial rights, and more - that their counterparts in the other 37 states have enjoyed since 2013.

The department says it is awaiting guidance on how to deal with benefit applications that were submitted before the rule change and would have likely been denied under the old rules. "Until this guidance has been issued, VA will temporarily wait to adjudicate all claims regarding same-sex marriage that cannot be immediately granted based on prior guidance," the department said.