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Guest Post: Marriage Equality and Veteran Spousal Benefits

Boyce Hinman

Boyce Hinman

Authored by Boyce Hinman, founder and director of the California Communities United Institute, and member of Marriage Equality USA. Hinman has been writing and posting a series, “Monday Morning Marriage Memo,” as part of his  Anatomy for Justice blog. This article was first published there, and is republished here with the author’s permission. Hinman resides in and serves California, therefore the posts sometimes have a California slant.

NOTE: Marriage Equality USA is not a legal firm or a tax/accounting firm. No action should be taken based solely on the content of our news blog or website.

The spouses and children of veterans (or active service members in some circumstances) qualify for certain education and housing benefits. And, now that DOMA has been overturned, the same sex spouses of veterans qualify for those benefits.

Note: I am not an attorney or a qualified tax expert. No action should be taken based solely on the content of these memos. However, I hope the memos will help you ask the right questions of people who are qualified in these issues.

Under current law, veterans qualify for a number of benefits which relate to getting a college education or other training for work. Under certain circumstances, those benefits may be transferred to, and used by, their spouses and children.

The benefits are as follows:

  • College tuition and fee payments paid to the school on the student’s behalf.
  • A monthly housing allowance.
  • A books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year.

The percentage of these benefits paid depends on how many months the veteran served on active duty in the military. Service members who served for at least 36 months qualify for 100% of the maximum benefits payable. Service members with at least 90 days, but less than 6 months, of active duty qualify for 40% of the maximum benefits available. The percentage of benefits available goes up in steps with increasing numbers of months served, but topping out at 100%.

Veterans are eligible for 36 months worth of these benefits. They can use the benefits for up to 15 years after their last period of active duty of at least 90 consecutive days. They can use the benefits at colleges, universities, trade schools, and for on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and flight schools.

The amount of the housing allowance varies with the ZIP code of the college and with whether the veteran is living at the college or taking courses over the internet or in some other way not actually attending classes in person.

Whatever of these benefits have not been used up by the veterans can be transferred to, and used by, the spouses and children of the veterans.

These benefits are administrated by the US Veteran’s Administration (VA). And whether or not that agency recognizes a same sex marriage depends on where the couple was married and where they live when the benefits are being requested.

Basically, the VA recognizes a same sex marriages in almost all situations. The one exception is as follows:

At the time of the marriage the couple lived in a state that does not recognize marriage (but they got married in a state that allows such marriages) and still live in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage at the time of application for veteran’s benefits.

The rules determining when a spouse or child may use the veteran’s education and housing benefits are stricter than the rules saying when a veteran qualifies to use them. In order for the transfer of benefits to become possible, the military service member must have served 6 years in the military and must agree to serve an additional 4 years, or has already completed 10 years of service, or has not completed 10 years of service but is prevented from doing so as the result of Department of Defense policy or because of some law (but agrees to serve as long as he or she is allowed to).

The transfer of benefits would also be allowed if the service member has retired from the military or is eligible to do so.

Spouses are eligible to use the transferred benefits even while the service member is still on active duty. The spouse may use the benefit for up to 15 years from the last separation of the service member from active duty. The children must wait until the service member has completed the required 10 years of service and may use the benefit without the 15 year limit. However the child’s eligibility ends at age 26.

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About Marriage Equality USA

Marriage Equality USA is a volunteer-driven national grassroots organization whose mission is: "To secure legally recognized civil marriage equality for all, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, at the state and federal level through grassroots organizing, education, action and partnerships". We are a registered 501(c)3.

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