Two senators joined the call for outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to immediately extend benefits to same-sex military families.
In a letter sent today, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) urged Panetta to change Defense Department rules before retiring.
"As Secretary, you have the power to extend certain important supports programs for military families to all of our service members," the senators write, adding that the "lack of equal benefits undermines those service members whose families are denied the programs offered for military families."
With the Senate confirmation hearings for Panetta's likely successor, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, scheduled to begin Thursday, pressure continues to mount for Panetta to take action before leaving office. Although some benefits are contingent on the successful repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, many, including equal access to housing benefits, military ID cards, legal services and other spousal privileges, could be granted by Panetta independently making various regulatory changes.
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson reitereated her calls for Panetta to act.
"After nearly two years of delay and equivocation that has hurt our service members and their families, it’s time for Secretary Panetta to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the gay and lesbian military families –who may now serve openly, but are still anything but equal – by immediately extending all benefits within his authority under existing law," Robinson said in a statement provided to Metro Weekly.
The letter comes after the White House said Friday that President Barack Obama is aware of the issues still facing gay servicemembers, but would not say if he would pressure the Pentagon to act more than a year after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The Pentagon has said for more than a year that they are reviewing the possibility of extending benefits to same-sex military families, but provided no new updates on the situation today. According to Defense Department spokesperson Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, "Secretary Panetta responds to all members of Congress and will respond to the senators directly."
[Photos: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (left) and Jeanne Shaheen (Courtesy of the U.S. Senate).]
Read the full letter here: