This is a story about how a case of “discrimination by ignorance and delay” was resolved by a very powerful elected official who represents my spouse and me in the United States Senate. This senior Senator has a reputation for kicking butt and taking names, and getting problems that her constituents have resolved quickly.
Our story relates to challenges we faced as a newly married couple and legal recognition by the U.S. Government.
My spouse officially retired from Uncle Sam after 40 years of service one year ago. At the time of his retirement, he and I were not legally married. Also, the U.S. Government in its benefits policies was required to adhere to a discriminatory law, notably Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That section specifically forbade the Government from allowing my spouse to extend his Federal benefits to me.
On April 4, 2013, my spouse and I were married in the state of my birth and where we have built our home and live.
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of the DOMA law unconstitutional. That meant that my spouse could extend Federal Government employee/retiree benefits that apply to a spouse to me.
While it was a bureaucratic process, within a few months, my spouse was able to cover me with his health insurance. But unfortunately, he could not get the agency that manages U.S. Government employee retirement to send a form that would allow him to designate me as eligible to receive a survivor pension benefit should he predecease me. With our legally recognized marriage in Maryland and with Section 3 of DOMA struck down, I became eligible for that important benefit as well.
We wrote three letters to the office that handles Government employee retirement requesting one simple form. That form was not available on the internet, or we would have gotten it there and sent it in.
We received one bureaucratic form letter saying that we had to request said form, but never the actual form.
My spouse kept saying, “I know the area of Pennsylvania where this office is located. It is in a very conservative part of the state. They probably are stonewalling and ignoring our request for that form on purpose because they don’t like same-sex marriage.” This is what I meant about discrimination. We allege such discrimination was occurring because they never sent us the form that we needed.
After six months of no response to written letters (and it is impossible to reach them on the phone), we finally wrote a letter to our senior U.S. Senator requesting her help. She presides as the Chair of a very powerful Committee in the Senate that oversees the agency where this non-responsive office is placed in the Government organization structure. This Senator also has a reputation of doggedly fighting on behalf of her constituents, especially when civil rights and fairness matters are concerned.
I’m very happy to say that her staff’s constituent service did not disappoint. Within three weeks, everything was put into place. The retirement office worked out the revised pension payment to reflect now that I am a survivor annuitant, and sent the required form to request that designation to be completed and filed for the record.
I have always believed that if you have a problem with any level of Government, that this is one of the important reasons why we have elected officials — to help sort out the bureaucracy, kick ass and take names. Thanks, Senator, for your help.
Life is short: challenge discriminatory bureaucratic delay when necessary by engaging the appropriate elected official.