POLITICS
05/19/2014 10:08 am ET Updated May 19, 2014

Government Awards Full Benefits To Wife Of Female Soldier Killed In Afghanistan

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 20, 2013 in Raeford, N.C., Tracy Dice Johnson holds a flag from a "widow's box" that pla
In this photo taken Wednesday, March 20, 2013 in Raeford, N.C., Tracy Dice Johnson holds a flag from a "widow's box" that platoon mates of her wife prepared during the service they had for their fallen comrade. When her wife was killed in Afghanistan last year, the North Carolina National Guardswoman heard about it from her sister-in-law. Although Sgt. Donna Johnson had listed Dice as her next-of-kin, Army casualty officers informed Johnson’s mother of her death first because of a federal law that prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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.

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