I come to you today a married woman. I never thought I'd say that again. I've been living by the adage, "Marriage is an institution and I will never be institutionalized again". My first marriage was to a GI named Jim. I'm certain I've discussed him before. We parted ways after 2 1/2 years. It had nothing to do with my sexuality. I still believed I was straight when I left him. It had everything to do with his drinking. After Jim I fell into a pattern of relationships that were not healthy. I wanted so much to be loved that I got into long term relationships with anyone who showed me the smallest bit of affection. Don't get me wrong, I loved each of those women but they were not healthy relationships and they did not last. I always accepted the blame for their "end".
The Rose Ceremony. We were both laughing at this point and just wanted it done and over with.
This time I've found the perfect woman. So perfect, in fact, that I asked her to marry me. We actually went to Iowa where same sex marriage is legal and had the ceremony performed there. We know our marriage will blossom and continue to grow with love. I've never met a more perfect woman. How she puts up with my idiosyncrasies I will never know. I'm not an easy person to live with. Terri is my everything. She is my world. She is my Guardian Angel.
Now comes the fun part. We got married in Dubuque, Iowa, so that our marriage would be legal. Our marriage is not recognized here in Florida. We knew that going into this. No, we're not moving to Iowa to take advantage of the laws there. We're going to stay here and hope that some day the laws will change and Florida will recognize our marriage. We like Florida. Our friends and family are here and we have no reason to leave them behind.
The newlyweds. Mrs & Mrs Wendi & Terri Goodman
We're in a holding pattern now. We're waiting for the official marriage certificate to arrive in the mail. My wife (I love saying that!) took my last name when we married. We need the marriage certificate so that she can start the process of changing her name legally. The folks in Iowa told us to start with Social Security. The County Clerk's Office in Iowa told us that Social Security will change her last name without a problem as long as they receive an official copy of our marriage certificate. Once Terri has that, she can work on changing the rest of her documents. We went to the bank and the bank told us all she needs to bring in is a marriage certificate and social security card with the new name. Terri had checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles before we left and they told her they wouldn't recognize her name change because it was a same sex marriage. However, if she brings in a social security card with her new name, they will recognize that. How odd is that? Talk about a double standard.
That's only half the battle. We still have to battle the Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Government. I want to enroll Terri in DEERS so that she can get a Military Dependent ID Card. (It's an Army retiree thing). I'm not sure how that's going to work. Don't Ask Don't Tell doesn't apply to me anymore because I'm retired. President Obama signed a bill awarding same sex benefits into law for Federal employees. I'm not sure how that works with regard to military retirees. Will they issue her a military ID card and allow her to be my "dependent"? I don't know the answer to that but you can bet, Invisible Reader, I'll keep you posted.
Then of course, there's the battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs. You already know, Invisible Reader, that I'm an 80% service connected, disabled Veteran. The VA pays extra money if you're married and/or have "dependents". Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) the VA does not recognize same sex marriages. That's not going to stop me from filing for an increase in my benefits and trying to get Terri declared as my Wife of record. Why would I do such a thing? I can hear you asking yourselves that, Invisible Readers. Well, I'll tell you.
There are changes on the horizon. There is a strong chance that Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) is going to be repealed this year. Gays and Lesbians will soon be able to serve openly in the military. That will be a great day. I can't imagine what it would be like to serve openly and not have to fear for your career each and every day. I suffered horribly in that deep, dark closet for many, many years. I know fear. I'm so thrilled not to have to live in that closet anymore. I often wonder what would happen if they were to call me back to active duty. As a retiree, I'm subject to recall until the age of 65. It says so right there on my DD214. I've already been retired honorably. If they were to reactivate me and I came out as a lesbian, how would that affect my honorable retirement? But, I digress from my original train of thought and this is a topic for another day.
I believe that once DADT is repealed, we are one step closer to repealing DOMA. Once that happens, a whole new world of benefits will open up to the LGBT community. I believe the Governement will HAVE to recognize our same sex marriages and give us all the rights, freedoms, benefits, etc, that our opposite sex friends receive. That's why I am going to file the paperwork to get Terri a military dependent ID card. That's why I'm going to file the paperwork to have here declared as my wife and apply for the additional benefits from the VA. I most assuredly will be denied. I have no doubt about that. However, when the time comes that they finally recognize our marriage, I'll have laid the groundwork for a huge back pay. Don't get me wrong, Invisible Reader. I'm not doing this entirely for the money. I'm doing this because it's what is right and fair. Terri is my wife. Legally. We have a marriage license and certificate to prove it. We deserve it. Terri deserves to receive the care and benefits that I earned by serving my country for twenty years. I want her to receive any monies that she is entitled to when I die. I want her well taken care of when I am gone. I'm going to fight to the end to see that it happens.
Are you a Veteran legally married to a same sex spouse? Follow my lead. File for increased benefits for your wife or husband. You need to fill out VA Form 21-686c. Send the completed form with the required documents to your local VA Regional Office via certified, return receipt. US Postal Mail. Or, you can always go to the VA website and send it through the VONAPP system. You'll get denied, of course. But you'll be laying the groundwork for a big fat back pay for when it is eventually approved. When mine is disapproved, I'm going to find an attorney to fight it for me. I'm going to take my fight and make it a very public fight. My wife knows this and bless her heart, she's agreed to go along with this plan. She's not out at work except to a select few people. She works in a very redneck county where they discriminate against everyone who isn't a good ole boy or girl. You know the type. She loves me enough that she's willing to be outed if this goes public. She's willing to risk her job so that I can fight this battle with the VA and the DoD. That's love, Invisible Reader. Fighting for what's fair no matter what the risk to her is.
Speaking of fair, Invisible Reader ... Have you seen the new "She Serves" Campaign? I first caught wind of it on Facebook. On Facebook, they made it seem like it was an outreach program for women Veterans -- for ALL women Veterans. I even found them on Twitter. It seemed on the up and up when I first saw it on Facebook. An organization which women could join, regardless of when we served --- all of us were welcome. I was excited about it. Then I started investigating further. It seems that "She Serves" is nothing but a recruiting campaign for the VFW in it's effort to bump up their numbers of women Veterans. Now that more and more women are serving in combat theaters, the VFW is seeking to actively recruit those women. I discovered this when I clicked on the "eligibility" link and it took me right to the VFW's eligibility page. I knew in that moment that I'd never be a member of "She Serves". You see, I've never served in a combat theater. I am authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal because I'm considered a Gulf War Era Veteran. The two tours I served in Germany during the Cold War don't count for anything. Cold War Veterans of Germany, unless you served in Berlin, get the royal shaft. The VFW doesn't want us. Sure, we can join, but they'll throw us into the Ladies Auxiliary. Tell me, Invisible Reader, I was a soldier ... just what the heck do I have in common with the wives of service members? That's who you find in the Ladies Auxiliary. Why would I want to be a member of that?
I will end with this email I received from a woman Veteran friend of mine.
Until the next time, Invisible Reader.....
About a week or so ago I was talking to some ladies from our local American Legion...I told them that I was a veteran and they invited me to join the auxillary with them...I told them again that "I" was the veteran, and that I didn't have a spouse. They said that at this local post all women are members of the auxillary.WTF???Talk about the good ol' boys system. It appears to be alive and well in Fairborn, Ohio.BS.