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Veterans Legal Services Clinic, Sen. Richard Blumenthal ’73 call on VA to Grant Equal Rights to Same-Sex Veteran Couples

UPDATE: On September 4, 2013, the Obama administration announced that the Department of Veteran Affairs would immediately begin providing spousal benefits to same-sex veteran couples despite a federal statute that limits such benefits to veterans' spouses who are "of the opposite sex," according to the New York Times. The change in policy will allow same-sex spouses of service members to receive health care benefits, and widows and widowers to receive survivor benefits. The news comes several weeks after members of Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic joined Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73 and their client Carmen Cardona, a Norwich veteran, to call for immediate action to grant equal rights and spousal benefits to all veteran couples at a press conference in Hartford.

In 2011, Cardona’s application for spousal disability benefits was denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs citing the federal statute defining a spouse as a member of the opposite sex. In response, students from the clinic filed an appeal on her behalf to the Board of Veterans' Appeals, and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. At the time of her case, it was believed Cardona was the first veteran in the nation to demand VA recognition of her same-sex marriage.

The press conference was responding to the Department of Defense announcing over the summer that they would grant equal rights and benefits to all military couples after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act this June.

At the press conference, Senator Blumenthal said in light of these changes by the Department of Defense recognizing the rights of same-sex couples, the Department of Veterans Affairs should follow suit by granting rights and benefits to same-sex veteran couples.

“Veterans like Carmen Cardona risked their lives for our country, supported by spouses who sacrificed at home as their loved ones served abroad,” Blumenthal said. “To deny these families equal rights and benefits is a grave injustice unworthy of our great nation.”

Cardona also spoke at the press conference, describing how important it is for same-sex veteran couples to receive equal rights and benefits.

"Yes, the spousal benefits I am entitled to will make a difference in my household," said Cardona. "But the most important thing is not the money. It's like I said, the principle, the freedom. ... We are veterans. We deserve it, whether we are gay or heterosexual."

Jennifer McTiernan ’15, one of the law students representing Cardona, said at the press conference that while they cannot estimate exactly how many other veterans are in Cardona’s position, the ruling in her case will impact many veterans across the country. Cardona’s appeal is currently still pending with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Read news coverage on the press conference:
Associated Press
Connecticut Mirror 
Hartford Courant