The Pentagon says it will extend some benefits to same-sex domestic partners of military servicemembers. This comes a year and a half after the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
Outside the visitor’s center at Fort Hood, men and women in camouflage stream into the building, paperwork in hand. Paul Eagen, of nearby Copperas Cove, spent ten years working at Fort Hood.
“I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve been stabbed and shot at as a contractor,” he said.
But giving benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian service members isn't something that keeps Eagen up at night.
“They’re doing the same task I am," said Eagen. "They’re surviving, they’re over there protecting. Leave ‘em alone!”
Not everyone agrees with Eagen. Several older men heading to the visitors center voiced their opinion, but didn’t want to go on tape.
“Mister, you don’t want to hear what I would say,” said one guy in a veteran’s baseball cap. Another invoked Sodom and Gomorrah from the Old Testament.
At the Killeen Mall, Tilee Grimm explained what having military benefits means for her, as the wife of an infantryman.
“Well, I can shop at the commissary, the PX, get cigarettes and gas at the shopettes,” she said.
The commissary is a grocery store; the PX stands for “post exchange.” It’s a place that sells furniture, clothing and other household goods. You need a military ID to shop at these stores on base. But until now partners of gay and lesbian service members weren’t able to get those IDs.
“When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell went away, our service members were allowed to serve openly, but their families have been left invisible,” said Lauren Lamoly, from the American Military Partner Association. She says there are over 100 benefits same-sex spouses have not been eligible for. Things like health care, legal services and hospital visitation rights.
Under the policy change, same-sex partners will get 22 new benefits, like legal services and visitation but until they’re considered dependents, health care is not on the list.
“It’s probably the biggest need for same-sex military spouses, but we understand that until the Defense of Marriage Act goes away, that’s not one of them that they can extend to us,” Lamoly said.
The Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the government from extending some benefits to same sex couples, is being taken up by the Supreme Court later this year.
Back at the Killeen Mall, military spouse Tilee Grimm says she hopes benefits like health care and survivor’s compensation aren’t far behind.
“If there is a death, they’re going to feel just as much as a normal spouse," said Grimm. "The only difference is, they’re going to have to go out of pocket to pay for everything, because they don’t get the same benefits. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
The military has until October 1st to implement the new policy.