Miss., Texas Won't Offer VA Benefits To Same-Sex Partners

The Texas National Guard says it will not offer benefits to same-sex spouses. The announcement was made despite an order from the Pentagon that all marriages should be treated equally.

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Today, a Justice Department ruling opened the way for the Veterans Administration to extend benefits to same-sex married partners of veterans. This comes the same week that gays in the military can start applying for spousal benefits. But the process has not gone smoothly for National Guard members in Texas and Mississippi. In those states, Guard spokespeople say they won't file the paperwork for same-sex couples requesting benefits. From member station KUT in Austin, Ben Philpott reports.

BEN PHILPOTT, BYLINE: Tuesday was supposed to be exciting for First Lieutenant Judith Chedville and her wife Alicia Butler. The couple planned to fill out paperwork to get official military spousal benefits mandated by the Pentagon. Butler describes what happened when they tried to sign up.

ALICIA BUTLER: Drove over with all the documentation that we were required to have, but were told at the ID office that because we are a same-sex couple, the Texas National Guard would not process our registration and provide me with an ID card and so forth.

PHILPOTT: The couple was told they could still get benefits but would have to apply at a federal facility, not one run by the State of Texas. So they must drive to San Antonio or Killeen, both about 90 minutes away.

BUTLER: Well, I think it's petty, and this is just a little dig at our National Guard members' families to try to make a point for somebody.

PHILPOTT: Like Texas, the Mississippi National Guard made the same decision.

TIMOTHY POWELL: We're not trying to prevent anyone from applying or stall or anything else.

PHILPOTT: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Powell is spokesman for the Mississippi National Guard.

POWELL: We're here to serve. And we have not denied anybody of benefits. We will never deny anyone of benefits that they're entitled to. Not going to happen. Never has, never will.

PHILPOTT: Texas National Guard officials say benefits will be recognized in Texas too. The Guard just can't fill out the paperwork. A spokesman for the governor says that's because Texas Military Forces must adhere to state law, which only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.

Chuck Smith is with Equality Texas, a gay rights advocacy group. He says filing paperwork doesn't actually recognize a same-sex marriage.

CHUCK SMITH: None of this, you know, the State of Texas is not confirming benefits. The state of Texas is not going to be paying benefits. You know, the state of Texas is not recognizing these couples as being married.

PHILPOTT: The policies in both states are under federal review, and changes could be made soon. For Austin's Alicia Butler, it's another frustrating delay for equality.

BUTLER: It's humiliating to have to wait outside the base to have lunch with my partner or make other arrangements if we need to take care of our daughter and I can't bring her up there. It's just an affront to our dignity.

PHILPOTT: She says the same about having to travel out of town to sign up for those benefits. For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin.

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