An Iraq War veteran has been ordered to pay back the benefits she received from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) for her family. The VA claimed the vet received them by mistake.
According to The Advocate, Melissa Perkins-Fercha must pay back the federal money because she and her wife live in a state - Texas - which does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Perkins-Fercha, a disabled veteran, and her wife, got married in the state of Washington, in 2012. In 2014, her wife gave birth to their daughter.
The VA covered Perkins-Fercha's wife and daughter for less than a year. Then they sent her a letter, informing the veteran that all of her benefits would be frozen until she paid back the money sent for her legally unrecognized family.
Perkins-Fercha expressed her feelings on the VA's decision to the American Military Partner Association (AMPA):
“I was shocked, angry, and hurt all at once,” Perkins-Fercha told the American Military Partner Association (AMPA).
“Who are they to tell me that my marriage is not valid and my daughter is not mine? More importantly, how does the rest of the federal government recognize my marriage and daughter but the Department of Veterans Affairs does not?”
The Defense of Marriage Act, which paved the way for same-sex marriage to be accepted on a national level, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. The Department of Justice has stopped enforcing the law, but the ruling did not mandate how each agency should interpret the change.
Shortly after adding her wife and daughter as dependents in 2014, Perkins-Fercha received a letter informing her that the VA would not provide her family with benefits because of the state's law. However, they continued to send her benefits.
AMPA, a non-profit organization which advocates on behalf of partners and spouses of LGBT troops and veterans, is helping Perkins-Fercha and her wife respond to the VA.
AMPA commented on their situation:
“Nothing angers me more than to find out a veteran is being denied earned veterans benefits and compensation for the sole reason they live in a state that does not respect their marriage or family,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a press release earlier this week.
“No veteran should be treated like this. Melissa put her life on the line for our country, and now our country is telling her that her family doesn’t count just because her spouse happens to be the same sex.”
Last year, AMPA filed a lawsuit against the VA on denying benefits to families living in states like Texas that do not recognize same-sex marriage. The suit is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.