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ensure they are receiving the best quality of care possible," he said. "Any instances of abuse or neglect in the state's
veterans facilities are inexcusable as well as tragic," said Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin. "She
applauds the Legislature for their dedication to the state's veterans and their willingness to shine a light on any
problems that might exist in the state's facilities." [Source: World Capitol Bureau Barbara Hoberock article 10 May
2012 ++]

Don'T Ask, Don't Tell Update 06:

The U.S. Justice Department said Feb. 17, 2012, it will cease
defending legislation that prohibits same-sex couples from receiving military and veterans benefits. When President
Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriages on 10 MAY, he noted that his decision rested in part
on the plight of gay troops who feel they’re being treated unfairly. Now, gay rights groups hope that the president’s
statement could trigger more dramatic changes for gays in the military in coming months. It also puts the Defense
Department in the middle of another heated social debate, less than a year after the repeal of the controversial “don’t
ask, don’t tell” law, which barred gays from serving openly in the military. In an interview with ABC News, Obama
said his position on gay marriage has changed in part because “I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or
sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone,
because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”
Within hours of that announcement, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that his department
would not argue for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a lawsuit seeking benefits for the same-sex partner of
a Navy veteran in Connecticut, another win for rights groups. DOMA prohibits federal agencies from recognizing
legal same-sex marriages for purposes of family benefits or programs, since state laws on the legality of those
unions differ. Other Democratic lawmakers — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) — also voiced
their support for same-sex unions following the president’s lead. Proponents said they hope the groundswell of
support can quickly move into legislative or administrative action. “Hopefully, this will be the catalyst for the
Pentagon giving more benefits to same-sex couples,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network (SLDN). “We hear from our military clients that they’re looking at or are planning on
getting married, so it’s an important issue for them.” For the last year, SLDN has pushed defense officials to
broaden the benefits available to same-sex couples, even while the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal
agencies from formally recognizing those unions. Sarvis said lawyers at the network believe military commanders
could grant gay families things like base housing, military ID cards, joint-duty assignments and combat exemptions
without running afoul of DOMA. So far, however, military officials have maintained that federal statutes prohibit
such actions.
Officials from OutServe, whose members include hundreds of active-duty gay troops, said the president’s
statement helps bring the issues of inequality for gay troops back into the public debate. But Clarke Cooper,
executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans and an Army Reserve captain, criticized the timing of Obama’s
announcement, which came a day after North Carolina voters rejected a proposal to allow same-sex marriages in
that state. Conservative opponents of same-sex marriage also called it a move designed to rally Obama’s core voters
but not representing any real change. In fact, just a few hours after the news broke, Republicans on the House
Armed Services Committee worked to step back last year’s biggest gay rights victory — “don’t ask, don’t tell”
repeal – in the annual defense budget debate. One amendment would bar any same-sex wedding ceremonies on
military facilities, while the second would prohibit commanders from punishing chaplains who express views
against homosexuality. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), who sponsored the latter amendment, said the move was necessary
because the president “is now using the military as props to promote the gay agenda.” The measures are unlikely to
pass the Senate and become law, but do indicate the continued difficulty ahead for any substantial change from
Congress on the issue of same-sex benefits.