(WASHINGTON) — For the first time the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to allow the same-sex spouse of a military veteran to be buried in a U.S. national cemetery.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has given permission for retired Air Force officer Linda Campbell, 66, to bury the ashes of her same-sex spouse Nancy Lynchild at Williamette National Cemetery in Oregon.
Lynchild, 64, died in late December after breast cancer had spread throughout her body. Campbell had wanted Lynchild’s ashes to be interred at the same cemetery where her parents are buried.
“It was just surreal. I cried, I shook, I got on my knees,” Campbell told The Oregonian when she first received the news that Shinseki had approved the request.
The Oregonian first reported that Campbell had been granted her request.
Campbell’s initial requests to inter Lynchild’s ashes at the national cemetery had been initially turned down by the Veterans Affairs Department. The Defense of Marriage Act recognizes marriages as existing only between a man and a woman, so same-sex spouses are not allowed interment at the national cemeteries administered by the VA.
However, Campbell’s supporters appealed her request directly to Shinseki, who in late January used his discretionary authority to approve the request, based “in part, on evidence of a committed relationship between the Veteran and the individual,” a VA statement said.
According to the statement, the VA “is committed to taking care of Veterans and their families, and recognizes the desire of Veterans to have the opportunity to be buried with a loved one with whom they have shared a committed relationship.”
The statement added, “Previously, the Secretary has also used his discretionary authority to designate others, such as a sibling, a child or a parent as eligible for burial in a VA National Cemetery. VA will continue to honor Veterans and their loved ones with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our Nation.”
No date has been set for the burial, which will be limited to friends and family.
The couple had been together since 1994 and in 2010 were legally married in British Columbia, Canada.
Williamette is one of the 131 national cemeteries administered by the Veterans Affair Department’s National Cemetery Administration. Seventy-two are open for interment. Arlington National Cemetery is run by the Department of the Army.
Earlier this week the Pentagon announced that some additional benefits were being opened up for the same-sex partners of military service members and retirees. However, burials at national cemeteries or Arlington National Cemetery was not one of the additional benefits approved by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Defense Department officials say the issue of burials remains under review as the Defense of Marriage Act recognizes marriages as existing only between a man and a woman.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jason Hanna, Madison Park and Steve Almasy, CNN
Tal Kopan and Jeremy Diamond, CNN