Understanding Your Benefits as a Lesbian or Gay Couple in the Military

With the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation in 2011 and the recent Supreme Court decision allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage, lesbian and gay service members can now serve openly and have equal access to benefits. The DoD is working to make the same benefits available to the same-sex spouses of uniformed service members as those available to opposite-sex spouses.

Benefits now available to same-sex couples

The new changes - set to go into effect no later than Sept. 3, 2013 - will extend benefits to all married service members, regardless of their sexual orientation. In order to take advantage of them, same-sex service members and their partners will need a marriage certificate from a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage. Because service members may have to travel in order to marry, the DoD will now allow military personnel non-chargeable leave for that purpose.

Following are some of the benefits available to service members and their families:

  • Health care through TRICARE
  • Basic allowance for housing
  • Family separation allowance
  • Family relocation benefits
  • Military ID cards
  • Commissary and exchange privileges
  • Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs
  • Child care
  • Youth programs
  • Joint duty assignments
  • Military and family support center programs
  • Disability and death compensation
  • Space-available travel on DoD aircraft
  • Legal assistance
  • Retirement benefits (through the Survivor Benefit Plan)

Certain benefits, such as TRICARE, basic allowance for housing and family separation allowance, will be retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court decision. For those service members married after June 26, 2013, benefits will begin on the date of marriage. For details, see the Secretary of Defense Aug. 13, 2013 memorandum.

Ways to protect yourself and family if you're not yet married

If you are not married, but want to protect your loved ones, here are some relatively easy ways you can ensure that your affairs are managed as you would want them to be:

  • Designate beneficiaries. Be sure to update and complete beneficiary forms for all service member-designated benefits, such as Servicemember's Group Life Insurance, Thrift Savings Plan, Death Gratuity and the Survivor Benefit Plan. If you do not have a beneficiary listed, the benefits will be distributed as dictated by law.
  • Create a Family Care Plan. If you have dependent children, you will want to create a Family Care Plan that specifies who will care for your children in the event you are deployed.
  • Draft a will. A will is a legally binding document that describes how you want your property distributed after your death. It may also include other matters such as the appointment of your child's guardian. Each service branch offers a Legal Assistance Program that helps service members with wills and other legal matters.
  • Draft a power of attorney. A power of attorney legally allows one person to act on behalf of another. A "general" power of attorney authorizes a person to act on your behalf for most things, while a "special" power of attorney authorizes your designee to act in your behalf in a specific situation, such as registering a car or getting medical care for your children.

For more information on the benefits being extended to same-sex partners and for help creating a will or power of attorney, visit your installation's Legal Assistance Office.


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