Yale Take on U.S. Government Over Same-Sex Marriage Benefits

A Navy vet says feds denied benefits because they don't recognize gay marriage.

Carmen Cardona, a disabled Navy vet, is legally married to a woman and wants her same-sex spouse to be covered by her veteran's benefits so she's taking on the U.S. government in court.

The problem, according to the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, is that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage and Cardona is filing an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

The case just might be the first of its kind. 

Cardona married her wife in 2010 in Norwich, which Connecticut law allows. Then, she applied to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for spousal benefits, but they denied her application. A VA statute prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, according to the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which is representing Cardona.

Cardona served in the United States Navy for 18 years. In 2000, she was honorably discharged and began receiving disability compensation from the VA for carpal-tunnel syndrome. Then, she became a correction officer for York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

The VA does not dispute the disability, nor the legality of the marriage, according to Yale’s legal services clinic. They denied her based on statute.

"I'm proud that I served my country while in the Navy," Cardona said in a news release. "It is important to my wife and me that the government respect my service by acknowledging our marriage, and that we be treated equally."

She said she and her wife could use the help to pay their mortgage, but this is not only about the money.

"President Obama is right that DOMA discriminates against gay and lesbian people. There are many other veterans out there just like me. I am standing up and asking to be treated equally in part to let others know they are not alone," she said.

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