Gay Navy Vet Sues for Disability Benefits

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 17, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An 18-year Navy veteran, Carmen Cardona recently learned that the military does not award disability benefits to gay couples.

Cardona has received disability benefits since 2000. When she married her now-wife in 2010, she applied for a monthly increase as provided by the rules. The Department of Veterans Affairs denied that application, citing two federal laws.

One law defines "spouse" as a person of the opposite sex. The other, popularly known as DOMA, prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Carmen Cardona has appealed the VA's decision, and is taking her case to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Created in 1988, this particular court only hears disputes between the government and veterans.

The court has never before considered disability benefits for gay couples. After all, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was only recently repealed. A positive decision for Cardona could thus have widespread implications.

If the appellate court strikes down either statute, benefits may be available to active duty troops. This could mean health care, housing and survivor benefits for same-sex spouses.

It could also lead to a class action lawsuit against the VA, which would seek "back benefits" for those who were unable to collect.

Whether any of this will happen is incredibly unclear. All but one of the current Veterans Claims judges were appointed by President Bush, according to the New York Times. And though it can make constitutional rulings, the court tends to shy away from far-reaching decisions.

Moreover, decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and eventually to the Supreme Court.

It could take years before Carmen Cardona sees results. Until then, the VA can deny disability benefits to gay spouses.

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