Iraq War Veteran Tracey Harris discussed her fight to obtain veterans’ disability benefits for her wife Maggie on CNN this afternoon. Harris — who is on disability and receiving treatment for PTSD and multiple sclerosis — has filed suit against the Veterans Affairs administration for failing to provide spousal benefits, charging that the department is infringing on her constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Currently, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prevents federal agencies from recognizing same-sex relationships and Title 38 of the United States Code defines spouses as a person of the opposite sex.
“We are trying to seek the same exact benefits that other spouses of disabled veterans are receiving,” Harris told host Ashleigh Banfield. “These benefits include burial benefits in any veterans cemetery. They also include survivor’s benefits for the widowed or widower’s spouse”:
BANFIELD: So should the worst case scenario prevail and you have to prepare for the reality end of life. Your wife gets nothing?
HARRIS: That is correct.
BANFIELD: And she can’t be buried alongside of you in an official cemetery?
HARRIS: That is correct… So even though I am a veteran, I served for 12 years and I was honorably discharged and am receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, they consider me a single spouse. So if something should happen to me, my wife will not be taken care of as a spouse of a similarly situated spouse of a veteran who has died.
According to the complaint, as a single veteran rated 80 percent disabled, Tracey receives $1,488 less in disability compensation every year — almost a full month’s worth of support — because the government does not recognize her marriage. In the event of Tracey’s death, her wife Maggie will not be entitled to a minimum survivor’s benefits of $1,195.