Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice Johnson, whose wife was killed fighting in Afghanistan, has received word from the Department of Veterans Affairs that she will receive the same survivor benefits that heterosexual married couples are entitled to.
Johnson's wife, 29-year-old Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson, was killed Oct. 1, 2012, by a suicide bomber. They are believed to be the first same-sex couple to suffer a casualty after the 2011 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the federal law that barred openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the military.
According to the Army Times, Johnson announced the VA's decision on Saturday at the American Military Partner Association's gala, where she received the organization’s 2014 Community Hero Award. She called the VA's announcement "an important step toward our end goal of achieving equal treatment for all military families."
Johnson was an outspoken advocate for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman for federal purposes. It therefore barred Johnson and other gay war widows from receiving equal benefits, including the return of the wedding ring recovered from the body and a monthly indemnity payment of $1,215.
Johnson didn't even hear directly from the military when her wife died. Although she was listed as next of kin, the military didn't recognize their marriage as being valid. Therefore, casualty officers notified Donna Johnson's mother first.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in June 2013.
Significantly, Johnson's benefits will be retroactive to the date of her wife's death, even though it occurred before the Supreme Court's ruling.