Veterans Benefits

This information is excerpted from Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service. To download the full guide, click here

The repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" does not change whether or not someone is eligible for VA benefits. The VA will continue to determine a service member’s eligibility for benefits based on factors such as time served, discharge characterization, and disability rating. For a more thorough discussion of Veterans’ Benefits and eligibility requirements, refer to the “Veterans’ Benefits” section of this Guide.

Gay veterans can be open about their sexual orientation without risking loss of benefits or retirement pay. The section below contains information about select benefits of interest to LGBT veterans and their families. If you have questions about your eligibility for any veterans’ benefits, please contact SLDN for assistance.

Until the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is repealed or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, benefits based on marital status are unavailable to legally married gay veterans and their same-sex spouses.

GI Bill: Under the Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30), service members had to serve a minimum of two years active duty, receive an honorable discharge and contribute $1200 toward the program to qualify for benefits. Veterans who were discharged under DADT might have been unable to meet these requirements.

Under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33), the qualifications were modified so that veterans who served at least 90 days active duty after September 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge can recover a portion of the maximum benefit. Veterans who paid into the Montgomery GI Bill may be able to transfer into the Post-9/11 GI Bill if they meet the new service requirements. Also, service members who have used all their Chapter 30 benefit and qualify for Chapter 33 can receive up to 12 months of Chapter 33.

In addition, the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows service members to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children, if they take on additional service obligations. However, a same-sex spouse would not be eligible for transfer because it is granted only to “spouses” as defined by DOMA.

VA Caregiver Support: Family members providing care for veterans injured in the line of duty post 9/11 may be eligible for federal assistance. The VA Caregiver Support program provides family caregivers with training, technical support, counseling and other benefits. Additionally, if the family caregiver is the primary provider of care for the veteran, then that person may be eligible for additional benefits, such as a monthly stipend and care coverage for 30 days a year so that the family caregiver can take a break. For this program, the family caregiver can be either a member of the veteran’s immediate or extended family, or anyone who lives with the veteran. This means that domestic partners and same-sex spouses may be the family caregiver for a veteran.

VA Guaranteed Home Loan Program: Buying a home is a goal for many service members and veterans. Many have not had a chance to save up enough money to cover the down payment required by lenders to receive favorable financing. Under the Home Loan Program, service members and veterans may be able to obtain favorable financing on home mortgage loans without requiring a down payment. Private lenders still finance the loan, but the federal government guarantees part of the loan to the lender, providing the security normally offered by a down payment.

SLDN has heard reports that some gay veterans have had trouble listing their same-sex partner on the deed or mortgage for their new home. If you are facing this situation, please contact SLDN for assistance.

Opposite-sex surviving spouses may also participate in the VA Home Loan Program in certain circumstances. The un-remarried surviving spouse of a veteran who died either on active duty or as the result of a service-connected disability may be eligible to take out loans under the Home Loan Program, and the surviving spouse of any veteran who had a previous VA loan may refinance that loan through the program. Because these surviving spouse benefits are determined by statute, same-sex marriages to a service member do not confer the benefit. At the same time, benefits based on a previous opposite-sex marriage to a service member are not terminated when the surviving spouse marries someone of the same sex, because the new marriage is not recognized.

Disability Compensation: Disabled veterans are entitled to various types of compensation for service-connected disability or death and pensions for some non-service-connected disabilities. Generally, veterans receive additional benefits if they are married or have dependent children, but DOMA makes these increased payments unavailable to married same-sex spouses of disabled veterans.

Surviving Spouse Compensation: Generally, dependency and indemnity compensation is available to surviving spouses of veterans who die of a service-connected disability or were receiving compensation for a service-connected disability. However, these payments are not available to same-sex spouses, because of DOMA. 

Have a question? Contact SLDN by clicking here.