WASHINGTON — Sixteen Democratic senators are calling on the Veterans Affairs Department to keep granting waivers so that same-sex spouses can be buried in national cemeteries.
The lawmakers said in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that they wanted to commend him for a recent decision granting a waiver to former Lt. Col Linda Campbell so that her deceased spouse, Nancy Lynchild, could be laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery near Portland, Ore. Now they're looking for more such approvals, as well as an expedited waiver process so that mourning veterans need not also worry about where their spouse can be buried. Campbell also wants to be buried in that same cemetery.
The waiver disclosed last month was the first of its kind. Spouses, and in some cases, dependents are eligible for burial with a veteran at a national cemetery. However, the Defense of Marriage Act defines spouse as a husband or wife of the opposite sex. The National Cemetery Administration, in response to that law, published a directive in 2008 stating that individuals in same-sex civil unions or marriages are ineligible for burial in a national cemetery or state veterans cemetery that received federal funding.
But Shinseki has the authority to approve waivers as he sees fit and did so based, in part, on evidence of a committed relationship between the Oregon couple.
"It is unacceptable that, after selflessly serving their nation, these men and women who have given so much would not be allowed to be buried next to the person they love in our national cemeteries," the Democratic lawmakers wrote. "We expect that you will continue to grant similar waivers moving forward. Making this important change is a matter of basic fairness and equity."
A copy of the letter, to be delivered Tuesday, was provided to The Associated Press. The VA declined to comment.