Are You a Disabled, Service Connected Veteran, Legally Married to a Same Sex Spouse? I Need Your Help Now!

Hello friends.  I’ve been coming to you for just over two years now.  We’ve discussed all kinds of topics; everything from my claims to military sexual trauma to service dogs to my joining Jim Strickland at VA Watchdog Today dot Org.  You got married with me.  You went to California with me.  Now I’m asking you to join me in a fight for civil rights.  This won’t be an easy fight.  Nor will it be a quick one.  This promises to drag out for at least a couple of years.  At least.  

I first brought up the idea for this fight when Terri and I got married last year.  By the way, wish us “Happy Anniversary”.  Yesterday we celebrated our one year anniversary.  I look forward to spending many years with her.  The first year has been great.  My wife continues to be a powerful source of strength for me.  I can’t imagine going through the daily struggles without her.  No matter how down I get, she is always there for me.

If you look back at the previous two blogs I published about adding Terri as my spouse, you’ll see that the VA denied my claim.  To briefly summarize in case this is your first time reading my blog, I applied to the VA to have Terri added as my spouse in June 2010.  In record time, three months, I received a denial.  I was denied based upon the “legal” definition of a spouse which is: “a member of the opposite sex”.  With guidance from my friend and business partner, Jim Strickland, I filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD).  The reason for the NOD?  The denial is a violation of my civil rights.  

Then I turned to my blog and started recruiting.  I turned to Facebook and started recruiting.  I turned to my friends and asked them to repost my blog everywhere they could think of.  I thought to myself, “the community will come out and support me.”  I know there are other couples out there like Terri and I.  Gay & Lesbian Disabled Vets, legally married, who want their same sex spouses to get benefits from the VA if they die.  I know they could use the extra money.  I sure could, though that isn’t my point in adding her to my claim.  We fought to repeal DADT.  We are fighting to repeal DOMA.  Why is this any different?  We are out of the military now.  We won’t lose our VA benefits if they find out we’re gay.  Federal civilian employees get some (not all) benefits for their same sex spouses.  Why aren’t we entitled to them?

I’m baffled by this.  Totally baffled by the lack of support for this call to action.  In the year I’ve been recruiting for this project, I’ve had a few inquiries.  I’ve sent out detailed instructions on how to apply.  To my knowledge, only one couple followed through.  That couple lives in California.  They will now become our first test case.  The Veteran filed and as expected, she was denied based on the definition of a spouse.  I sent her a sample letter for her NOD.  She filed it.  Lo and behold …. she has a hearing date set for the end of June.  We are shocked at how quickly this is taking place.  

Our test case will be denied at the hearing.  There is no doubt about that.  A Decision Review Officer does not have the power to grant this request.  “Why?”, you ask.  I’ll let Jim Strickland answer that for you.  The following is from an email he wrote to me recently about this test case.

“The DRO will continue to deny no matter what she does. A DRO will not come close to having the authority to approve the benefits when the law is so very clear. Decisions at the Regional Office level are
administrative and have little force of law behind them.

Remember…when the rules were written they came from a legislative body..Congress writes law, law is turned into rules and regulations. Rules and regs can be modified by the Secretary within the scope of powers granted to him but there are many things the Secretary does not have any authority to change. When the law is so specific as to describe marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the law can only be changed one way…legislatively.

So…the DRO hearing is necessary for the record. This is how courageous people make positive change. It’s never simple or easy so not many have the grit to step up and do it.”

Having read that I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “If they can’t approve it, why go through it?”  The answer is simple.  You have to start somewhere.  If we aren’t applying for benefits for our same sex spouses, who will know that we want them?   We wanted the right to marry.  We’ve been fighting for that and we’re making progress.  My wife and I are living proof.  We wanted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to be repealed.  All we are waiting for now is for it to be certified.  We fought for DADT and soon it will be a thing of the past.  We’re fighting for the repeal of DOMA.  We’re fighting for Equal Rights.  That’s all I’m asking for here.  A fight for Equal Rights for me and my wife.  Don’t you want that for you and your wife/husband?

I challenge you, faithful readers.  If you are legally married to a same sex spouse, I challenge you.  I challenge you to have the courage to fill out VBA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents. I’ve provided you with the link to the form you need so you don’t have to go searching for it.  Next, I challenge you to have the courage to send it in to your VA Regional Office, certified mail with a return receipt of course, and wait for your denial.  Once your denial comes back, email me at WendiG@vawatchdogtoday.org and I will provide you with a sample letter of the NOD that I sent in when my request was denied.  

There really is power in numbers my friends.  I’m asking you to help me with this fight.  It won’t end tomorrow or the next day or the day after that.  This is going to take a long, long time.  I expect it to go on for many years, much like the battle for DADT or even (gasp!) DOMA.  I ask you to join but I also ask you to have patience.  I ask you to spread the word about this project.  If you are still reading this blog, I ask that you share it with your friends.  If you know any gay and lesbian, service connected, legally married, disabled Veterans, please recruit them for this cause.  We need as many couples as we can to join this fight.  This is an important civil rights fight.  This is no joke, my friends.  This is serious business.

If you have further comments or questions, feel free to comment here or email me at WendiG@VAWatchdogToday.Org.  I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.  

Until the next time …..
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In the Navy? One day you can marry on base. The next day you can’t. If you’re gay that is.

The Navy is riding high these days.  My congrats to Seal Team Six for taking out OBL.  In my opinion, his death is long overdue.  I heard the Seal who fired the kill shot is a married man.  Interesting that the Navy would announce such a thing.  Why would that matter to the general public?  Who cares if the shooter was married, single, black, white, purple, green or (gasp) rainbow colored!

It leads me to wonder if they were prepping us for the next big announcement.  On May 9, 2011, Stars & Stripes published an article entitled Navy says chaplains could soon perform same-sex unions. Could this be the Navy’s way of telling us the “married” Seal is gay and to reward him for his heroism they were timing the release of this announcement as a show of support?  Stranger things have happened, right?

Unfortunately, for gays in the military who, for just a moment had a shred of hope, this didn’t last very long.  Just this morning I woke to a ticker announcement on Good Morning America stating the Navy had reversed it’s position on this decision.  That didn’t last very long, did it?

Why the sudden change of heart?  It’s clearly explained in this article, Navy Plan to allow same-sex marriage on bases draws opposition. The article states that after the plan to allow marriages on base was announced it drew criticisms “from dozens of members of Congress”.  So of course, the Navy bowed to political pressure and back peddled so fast we didn’t even have time to spread the good news that same sex marriages were going to be allowed on base in the first place.  

What a crying shame.  Here the Navy had the opportunity to lead the way…again.  They brag in the news about taking out OBL.  They deserve props for that.  They brag in the news that “sensitivity training” is progressing towards the certification of the repeal of DADT.  They brag in the news they will soon begin to allow same-sex marriages on base.  The policy was published in April and released a few days ago. Why did they wait so long?  You have to wonder about that.  The timing is certainly suspicious, don’t you think?  Just as quickly as it was announced, the policy was rescinded due to pressure from Congress.  

What the hell, Rear Admiral Tidd?  DADT has been repealed.  You took a major step forward in announcing that same-sex marriages would be allowed on base.  What a coward you turned out to be.

Until the next time, my friends…..

Serve Our Country—Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Serve Our Country—Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Hello, Invisible Reader. Do you know that I’m getting married next month? That’s right. After swearing off marriage after my first and only heterosexual one that ended in divorce in 1985, I’m taking the plunge again on May 30th, 2010. My fiance and I live in Florida where gay marriage is not allowed so we are traveling to Iowa where it is legal. Our marriage won’t be recognized in Florida but we’ll know it’s legal and we hope that some day it will be legal in all fifty states. Screw DOMA.

If you read the article “Serve Our Country — Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“, you’ll see why DADT is very important to me. I was a career soldier. If you’ve been following this blog, you already know that. You also know that I am an 80% service connected disabled Veteran. As a lesbian Army retiree who is marrying another lesbian, my soon to be wife is not entitled to any federal benefits, NOTHING. Not that it has anything to do with DADT, but the repeal of DADT is a stepping stone, I believe. It is a stepping stone towards the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

You see, Invisible Reader, when my heterosexual counterparts marry, they are entitled to extra money from the VA if they are disabled Veterans. They are entitled to receive benefits at the “with dependents” rate. When Terri and I get married next month, we won’t be entitled to any extra money because the VA is a federal agency and as such, they don’t recognize gay and lesbian marriages. We are a non-entity as far as the VA is concerned. Screw DOMA. Screw DADT. Repeal them both.

So what does this have to do with the repeal of DADT? Everything … I think. If DADT is repealed, women like Retired Naval Captain Joan Darrah won’t have to live in fear of being found out and discharged. If DADT is repealed, will the military then award spousal benefits to same sex couples in committed relationships? If so, then how will that carry over once service members are released from the military? Will the VA then award us disabled Veterans spousal benefits the same as our active duty same sex counterparts? One can only hope. I want my soon to be wife taken care of, too. If I should die because of a service connected disability, I want her taken care of for the rest of her natural life. If DADT is repealed will that force DOMA to be repealed? Or is that just wishful thinking on my part? Am I living in a fantasy world, Invisible Reader, for wanting what  heterosexual married couples take for granted?

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t come into play until my last year of military service, 1993.  Before that time I was subjected to witch hunts. I didn’t come out until 1985 or 1986. It wasn’t until long after I divorced my husband that I finally came to the realization that I was/am a lesbian. I’ve said this before in my blogs but for the benefit of you new readers, those who knew me best, including my own family, knew all along I was a lesbian but chose to let me figure it out on my own. After that personal discovery I lived in fear for the rest of my military career. Even when I was “still straight” I’d been accused of being a lesbian. There were those who suspected that my marriage was one of convenience and that my husband and I were doing it for two reasons: Number one we were doing it for the extra money; Number two I was using my ex-husband as my “beard”. Neither was true but you take a strong female soldier who doesn’t take any crap and it’s automatically assumed she is a “dyke”. I was terrified for the remainder of my military career. I kept my little secret (a very large, potentially very dangerous secret), well hidden and told no one. I didn’t tell my family, none of my lifelong friends, I trusted no one except my partner and that’s because she had as much to lose as I did. I did not fraternize with anyone I worked with and I kept my social life completely separate from my military life. I invited no one to my home and my partner and I went nowhere in public where we might be seen together. That’s a terrifying way to live. When family came to visit we slept in separate bedrooms. We were that afraid.

Even now I keep my life private to a certain extent. Oh sure, you can Google my name and the word lesbian will come up associated with it and I’ll be “found out”. I don’t think they can take anything from me now. My VA mental health care providers know that I am a lesbian. I had to be honest with them if I’m ever to get well. But at my request, which they’ve honored, nowhere in my records does it say that I am a lesbian. Nowhere does it make reference to my “partner” being a female.

At some point or at what point, do we stop living in fear? My fiance works for the County.  Just this morning she told me that if gay marriage is ever approved in the state of Florida, some of the people in the County Office are saying they will refuse to marry same sex couples because of their “religious beliefs”. Terri asked someone else from that office, “Is that legal? Can they refuse to marry same sex couples?” The answer was “No, they cannot. They are County employees and if same sex marriage is legal, they have no choice to perform them, regardless of their religious beliefs.” Someone else was telling us last weekend that in their state you can “marry your first cousin but it’s illegal for same sex couples to marry.” Wow. Inbreeding at its very best. Lets promote THAT!!

Bottom line Invisible Reader, read the article about Retired Naval Captain Joan Durrah. Then go out and do whatever you can to help promote repealing DADT and DOMA. Until DADT is repealed, thousands upon thousands of service members will continue to live in fear and isolation. It’s a lonely place to live, Invisible Reader. I know, I’ve been there. I hated it. It was a frightening, very dark closet with no light at the end of the tunnel. Show support for DOMA, too. Repealing DADT doesn’t end the battle. Veterans need help, too. I want to be able to take care of my soon to be wife. I want to enroll her in DEERS. I want to get her a dependent ID Card. I want to draw VA Benefits at the with dependents rate. I want to make sure that if I die due to complications of a service connected disability, she is taken care of for the rest of her life.

Be an Invisible Reader. Don’t be an invisible activist. Speak out. Volunteer. Do what you can to help.

Until the next time, Invisible Reader ……