Topics:

Military extends some benefits to same-sex partners

Panetta says DOMA prevents full benefits
Tools

Some military service member benefits will be available to same-sex partners later this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Feb. 11 in one of his last official acts.

Service members and their domestic partners will have to sign a written declaration of their partnership in order to participate in the nearly two dozen benefits, which include child care, recreation programs, legal assistance, and compensation for dependents of members held captive.

Healthcare and housing allowances are among benefits that can legally only go to spouses. But in a memo (.pdf) about the changes, Panetta said same-sex couples would get full military benefits in the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Defense Department.

"I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation," Panetta said in a separate announcement.

Panetta said in the memo that the military will work to make benefits available to same-sex couples and their families by the end of August, or by Oct. 1 at the latest. Implementation will require policy revisions, new training, and technical changes for identification cards.

The department expects the cost of implementation to be negligible. Panetta has called for an implementation plan within 60 days.

Some benefits, including on-base housing and burial at Arlington National Cemetery, "present complex legal and policy challenges," Panetta noted in the memo, and the military plans to continue to review how to provide equal access to them. A DoD press release noted that the written declaration that domestic partners will have to sign can't apply in cases where one of the partners has died.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has instructed the Coast Guard to implement DoD's benefit changes.

"The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard stand with the Department of Defense on the extension of benefits for military same-sex partners," she said in a statement.

According to DoD estimates, 5,600 same-sex couples include an active-duty service member, 3,400 include a reservist or National Guard member, and 8,000 include a retired military member.

For more:
- download the Feb. 11 memo (.pdf)
- read Panetta's announcement of the change
- read a DoD press release about the change

Related Articles:
Expanding same-sex benefits slightly increases costs and coverage, says CBO
Survey suggests where active duty over- and under-value compensation types
Economic security a top concern for military families, finds report