Titus Blasts VA for Discrimination Against LGBT Veterans

Apr 30, 2014
Floor Statements
April 30, 2014
 
Washington, D.C. – Today Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada’s First District spoke on the House Floor to highlight ongoing discrimination against same-sex veteran couples. Below is a copy of her remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
 
“As the Ranking Member of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee of the Veterans Affairs Authorizing Committee, I rise today in support of the FY 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations legislation. 
 
“As a Member of Congress and a Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, one of my top priorities is ensuring that our nation’s heroes receive all of the benefits they have earned, in a timely fashion. 
 
“I want to take this opportunity to highlight a few provisions of this legislation that I believe will help our veterans. 
 
“This legislation furthers our goal of eliminating the VA benefits backlog. Veterans in Las Vegas have recently faced delays of close to 500 days to have their claims processed by the VA. The Reno Regional Office, which is responsible for the claims of all Nevada’s veterans, had a backlog of more than 8,000 claims, with over 4,000 claims waiting longer than one year. 
 
“Fortunately, we have seen improvements on many of these metrics, both nationally and for veterans in Southern Nevada. 
 
“But, more must be done to reach the VA’s ambitious goal of adjudicating benefits claims in 125 days, especially for significantly underperforming RO’s such as Reno. 
 
“I commend Chairman Culbertson and Ranking Member Bishop for including strong reporting requirements for the individual RO’s and look forward to working with them on ways to improve the offices that are not meeting VA’s goals, or the needs of our nation’s heroes. 
 
“While I support the FY 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, I would like to take a minute to raise an issue that is troubling me, and bring it to the attention of the House.  
 
“I know many of my colleagues will be deeply saddened to learn that some veterans and their families across the country are being denied the benefits they earned serving our nation.
 
“A recent example of this discrimination against some our nation’s veterans was highlighted in a report by CBS News just last week.  
 
“74 year old Madelynn Taylor of Boise, Idaho, proudly served her country in the United States Navy for 6 years. 
 
“Madelynn lost her spouse in 2012 and soon after began the task of making arrangements to ensure that the two of them would be together in death, as they were in life. 
 
“Being a veteran, Madelynn has the right to be interred at a state or national veterans’ cemetery. 
 
“Since the closest national cemetery to Boise is nearly 8 hours away in Western Oregon, Madelynn decided to inquire about a joint spot in a memorial wall for her and her spouse’s ashes to lay in rest together, just as hundreds of other couples have done, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in her hometown of Boise.
 
“The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery was opened a decade ago with 100% of the funding for the design, construction, and equipment costs coming from a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ State Cemetery Grants Program and the cemetery continues to receive federal funding for operations. 
 
“When Madelynn brought the necessary paperwork, including her discharge paperwork and marriage certificate, she was told that she and her spouse would not be allowed to be buried together. 
 
“Why you ask, was she denied this right?  The answer is that Madelynn Taylor is a lesbian.
“Idaho state law does not recognize the legality of the marriage between Madelynn and her wife Jean and therefore is denying the couple the honor and dignity earned through Madelynn’s service to the United States of America.
 
“Madelynn said this of her situation, “I just feel that it's the right place for me…I'm a veteran. So they should let me... in fact, they would let me alone, be in that crypt, but I don't want to alone. I want Jean with me."
 
“We rightfully elevate our veterans and their families because of their service and sacrifice; yet today some veterans and their families across the country face discrimination by the states and federal government they fought to defend. 
 
“NO veteran or their family should be treated as a second-class citizen. 
 
“Nearly a year after the landmark Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, effectively extending federal benefits to legally-married couples, we continue to see our nation’s gay and lesbian veterans face obstacles accessing the benefits they have earned and rightfully deserve. 
 
“While in uniform, LGBT soldiers have access to the full complement of benefits  available to members of the Armed Services. But the second they transition out of the military, they are forced to leave these benefits behind. 
 
“I’ve introduced legislation to end this disservice and invite my colleagues to join me in this important effort. 
 
“Mr. Chairman, today we debate legislation to fund the critical work of the Veterans Administration and the earned benefits of the nation’s veterans and their families.
“My hope is that this body will give equal attention to all veterans and their families and end the discrimination they experience when seeking benefits, including the right to be buried with their legally married, same sex spouses. 
 
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.”