Sanchez: Not all veterans equal, according to Senate vote

BY SADIE SANCHEZ | JUNE 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate voted against an amendment that would allow gay and lesbian veterans to receive the same federal benefits as veterans in heterosexual marriages. Although a majority voted for the proposal introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., 42 Republican senators shot it down, denying any changes.

This amendment, based on the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, was aimed to help gay and lesbian veterans living in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage be able to receive the benefits that they earned during their service.

As it stands now, gay and lesbian veterans living in states that acknowledge same-sex marriage are entitled to the same benefits that veterans in heterosexual marriages receive. However, gay and lesbian veterans living in states where same-sex marriage is not acknowledged receive far less than they’ve earned. These cuts include smaller monthly benefits, as well as no education assistance, VA medical care, and VA home loans for their spouses and children. They also lose survivor benefits, pension, and burial rights.

This is a devastating result, especially coming off the heels of Memorial Day, in which veterans across the land were glorified and celebrated for their brave sacrifice in the name of our country. Yet it seems that that pride is only acceptable if you’re straight. 

What does this say about America, where the validity of your sacrifice is determined based on whom you do or do not love? Why is a gay man risking his life in a war zone, defending the lives of those who identify with the LGBTQ community or not, somehow less than a straight man in the same position?

In one case, a 50 percent disabled veteran was granted benefits for her wife and children, only to have them repealed by the Veterans Administration later on. She was forced to lose a large chunk of her benefits and had to make monthly payments to pay off the benefits she had already received. 

In a nation that prides itself on its military, we are harming and ignoring a large chunk of the men and women who serve our country. If gay and lesbian members of our military can die for our country, they should receive the same support when they come home. Family is family. Denying their hard-earned benefits because of their orientation is unconstitutional.

As of now, 37 states recognize same-sex marriage, with entire countries suchas Ireland and Mexico following suit. And this month, the Supreme Court is expected to make a decision regarding same-sex marriage — one that could not only change the lives of military veterans, but everyday Americans such as me.

It is time that we stand up and protect all of the citizens of our country. Whether you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, or queer in another regard, your rights matter. This is a country built upon one mission; to be free and to be brave. Now, we must honor that. America is for you, no matter whom you love.

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