Pentagon Extends Benefits to Spouses of Gay, Lesbian Troops

Health care, separation and housing allowances among new benefits for same-sex couples.

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By Sept. 3 spouses of gay and lesbian service members will receive full Department of Defense benefits, the department announced Wednesday.

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The spouses of gay and lesbian servicemembers will receive full Department of Defense benefits no later than Sept. 3, the Pentagon announced Wednesday afternoon.

[READ: Memo Outlines Pentagon's New Plan For Same-Sex Benefits]

The Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional cleared the way for same-sex spouses to receive military benefits. Secretary Hagel announced June 26 that these spouses would be entitled to burial at Arlington National Cemetery among other benefits. Military health care known as TRICARE, separation allowance for family stationed overseas and money for housing will also be extended to same-sex partners, the Pentagon says. Any couples who are already married will receive retroactive benefits to June 26, or to the date of the marriage if it happened afterward.

The Pentagon also confirmed a proposal outlined in a leaked memo last week that it would grant servicemembers leave to travel to a state that allows same-sex marriage if the current state in which they live forbids it.

"It is now the department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in an Aug. 13 memo released Wednesday.

The announcement marks another milestone for gay and lesbian servicemembers, who became allowed to serve openly following the repeal in 2011 of the congressionally mandated ban on gays in uniform, known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

[ALSO: After DOMA Falls, Gay Troops' Spouses Can Be Buried at Arlington Cemetery]

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in February that the Pentagon would extend some benefits to same-sex partners after signing a declaration of the relationship. Hagel wrote Tuesday in his memo that those policies would be rescinded in light of Wednesday's announcement.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., praised the decision in a statement on Wednesday, but pointed out that veterans no longer on active duty are still excluded from receiving benefits for their spouse. She introduced legislation in July that would overturn that ban.

"While the Pentagon's decision is a big win for fairness and equality, the fact is that more needs to be done," she said. "Until the Department of Veterans Affairs issues a similar announcement, I will continue to push forward the Charlie Morgan Act so that veterans and their families also enjoy the benefits they have rightfully earned and deserve."

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