Military Connection: Lesbian Widow Prevails: By Debbie Gregory

By Debbie Gregory

Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice

Losing a loved one is probably the hardest thing most people will ever experience. Losing a loved one due to their military service is particularly heartbreaking. No matter what your background is, a parent still lost a child, a sibling still lost a sibling, a friend still lost a friend, and a spouse still lost a spouse. Regardless of your ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation… a loss is still a loss, no matter what kind of military family it happens to.

For years, the lesbian widow of a fallen soldier had been denied the same benefits as heterosexual survivors. National Guard Veteran Tracy Dice Johnson is the widow of North Carolina National Guardsman and Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran Sgt. Donna Johnson, who was killed in Afghanistan in October, 2012. The two were legally married, but because the state of North Carolina does not recognize same sex marriage, the widowed Johnson had been told that she most likely would not receive her survivor benefits from the VA.

The VA never officially denied Johnson’s claim. She had applied for the benefit twice and had been repeatedly told that her request was under review.

On May 17th, at the American Military Partner Association’s National Gala Dinner, Johnson was honored by AMPA. During her address at the gathering, Johnson told the crowd that the VA had recently informed her that they will retroactively recognize her widow status, thereby granting her the survivor benefits she is entitled to. The benefits include access to VA loans, money for schooling, a monthly payment of up to $1,200. The announcement was met with thunderous applause at the gala.

Johnson thanked AMPA, and members of the group who were like family to her in her time of mourning.

Johnson is not the first gay or lesbian widowed spouse to receive survivor benefits. The Pentagon is implementing programs that will attempt to ensure that service members of all creeds, colors, ethnicities and orientations have access to the full benefits they are entitled to under law.

For more information on VA Survivor Benefits, visit www.va.gov.

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Military Connection: Lesbian Widow Prevails: By Debbie Gregory