Hello friends. I've been coming to you for just over two years now. We've discussed all kinds of topics; everything from my claims to military sexual trauma to service dogs to my joining Jim Strickland at VA Watchdog Today dot Org. You got married with me. You went to California with me. Now I'm asking you to join me in a fight for civil rights. This won't be an easy fight. Nor will it be a quick one. This promises to drag out for at least a couple of years. At least.
I first brought up the idea for this fight when Terri and I got married last year. By the way, wish us "Happy Anniversary". Yesterday we celebrated our one year anniversary. I look forward to spending many years with her. The first year has been great. My wife continues to be a powerful source of strength for me. I can't imagine going through the daily struggles without her. No matter how down I get, she is always there for me.
If you look back at the previous two blogs I published about adding Terri as my spouse, you'll see that the VA denied my claim. To briefly summarize in case this is your first time reading my blog, I applied to the VA to have Terri added as my spouse in June 2010. In record time, three months, I received a denial. I was denied based upon the "legal" definition of a spouse which is: "a member of the opposite sex". With guidance from my friend and business partner, Jim Strickland, I filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). The reason for the NOD? The denial is a violation of my civil rights.
Then I turned to my blog and started recruiting. I turned to Facebook and started recruiting. I turned to my friends and asked them to repost my blog everywhere they could think of. I thought to myself, "the community will come out and support me." I know there are other couples out there like Terri and I. Gay & Lesbian Disabled Vets, legally married, who want their same sex spouses to get benefits from the VA if they die. I know they could use the extra money. I sure could, though that isn't my point in adding her to my claim. We fought to repeal DADT. We are fighting to repeal DOMA. Why is this any different? We are out of the military now. We won't lose our VA benefits if they find out we're gay. Federal civilian employees get some (not all) benefits for their same sex spouses. Why aren't we entitled to them?
I'm baffled by this. Totally baffled by the lack of support for this call to action. In the year I've been recruiting for this project, I've had a few inquiries. I've sent out detailed instructions on how to apply. To my knowledge, only one couple followed through. That couple lives in California. They will now become our first test case. The Veteran filed and as expected, she was denied based on the definition of a spouse. I sent her a sample letter for her NOD. She filed it. Lo and behold .... she has a hearing date set for the end of June. We are shocked at how quickly this is taking place.
Our test case will be denied at the hearing. There is no doubt about that. A Decision Review Officer does not have the power to grant this request. "Why?", you ask. I'll let Jim Strickland answer that for you. The following is from an email he wrote to me recently about this test case.
"The DRO will continue to deny no matter what she does. A DRO will not come close to having the authority to approve the benefits when the law is so very clear. Decisions at the Regional Office level are
administrative and have little force of law behind them.
Remember...when the rules were written they came from a legislative body..Congress writes law, law is turned into rules and regulations. Rules and regs can be modified by the Secretary within the scope of powers granted to him but there are many things the Secretary does not have any authority to change. When the law is so specific as to describe marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the law can only be changed one way...legislatively.
So...the DRO hearing is necessary for the record. This is how courageous people make positive change. It's never simple or easy so not many have the grit to step up and do it."
Having read that I'm sure you're asking yourself, "If they can't approve it, why go through it?" The answer is simple. You have to start somewhere. If we aren't applying for benefits for our same sex spouses, who will know that we want them? We wanted the right to marry. We've been fighting for that and we're making progress. My wife and I are living proof. We wanted Don't Ask Don't Tell to be repealed. All we are waiting for now is for it to be certified. We fought for DADT and soon it will be a thing of the past. We're fighting for the repeal of DOMA. We're fighting for Equal Rights. That's all I'm asking for here. A fight for Equal Rights for me and my wife. Don't you want that for you and your wife/husband?
I challenge you, faithful readers. If you are legally married to a same sex spouse, I challenge you. I challenge you to have the courage to fill out VBA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents. I've provided you with the link to the form you need so you don't have to go searching for it. Next, I challenge you to have the courage to send it in to your VA Regional Office, certified mail with a return receipt of course, and wait for your denial. Once your denial comes back, email me at WendiG@vawatchdogtoday.org and I will provide you with a sample letter of the NOD that I sent in when my request was denied.
There really is power in numbers my friends. I'm asking you to help me with this fight. It won't end tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. This is going to take a long, long time. I expect it to go on for many years, much like the battle for DADT or even (gasp!) DOMA. I ask you to join but I also ask you to have patience. I ask you to spread the word about this project. If you are still reading this blog, I ask that you share it with your friends. If you know any gay and lesbian, service connected, legally married, disabled Veterans, please recruit them for this cause. We need as many couples as we can to join this fight. This is an important civil rights fight. This is no joke, my friends. This is serious business.
If you have further comments or questions, feel free to comment here or email me at WendiG@VAWatchdogToday.Org. I'll get back to you as quickly as I can.
Until the next time .....