SSA and VA Issue Guidance on Same-Sex Couples

The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Veteran's Administration (VA) have begun to issue guidance governing the treatment of same-sex marriages. The SSA has updated its regulations and has begun issuing benefits to some same-sex couples. In addition, President Obama announced that same-sex spouses of military veterans would be able to collect veteran's spousal benefits.

The announcements follow the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to refuse to honor same-sex marriages that were lawfully created under state law.

The SSA recently announced that it was starting to give benefits to some same-sex couples. It updated its Policy Operations Manual System (POMS), which tells field offices when to give out benefits, to provide previously unavailable Social Security benefits to eligible same-sex spouses who were legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages and who live or lived in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages when they filed a claim for Social Security benefits. However, Social Security offices are required to "hold claims" that are filed by spouses who were legally married but who resided in states where their marriages were not recognized at the time of the claim. Those claims won't be granted or denied until further guidance is issued. To read the new POMS materials dealing with same-sex marriages, visit this SSA webpage. The new POMS sections do not address claims for Social Security disability benefits.  

The Obama administration announced that it would no longer enforce statutory language that defines the term spouse as "a member of the opposite sex" for the purposes of VA benefits. The VA will immediately begin providing benefits to same-sex spouses whose marriages are recognized by the state where they live or where the veteran was discharged. This will allow those same-sex spouses to receive health care benefits and widows and widowers to receive survivor benefits, among other things. Read more on this decision in this article from the New York Times (subscription may be required for access).