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Lesbian military widow announces she'll get death benefits

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tracy Dice Johnson was married to Donna Johnson, a National Guard soldier
  • Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan
  • Dice Johnson says VA will grant death benefits, she told a gala for gay military families

(CNN) -- The lesbian widow of an Afghanistan war soldier has announced that her wait to see if she would receive the same benefits as heterosexual spouses has finally ended.

Over wild applause at a Washington dinner Saturday honoring gay military families, Tracy Dice Johnson said that the Department of Veterans Affairs had reviewed her case and decided to grant her benefits, according a release about the event on the Defense Department's website.

A North Carolina National Guardsman and Iraq war veteran, she was married to her longtime love, National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson.

Donna Johnson, 29, was killed in October 2012, when a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint she was helping to set up in Khost, according to a CNNMoney article published in March.

At the time the story published, nine months had gone by since the Supreme Court had made it possible for same-sex couples who were previously denied federal benefits to begin receiving them.

Johnson's request had not been denied, but she had applied twice and had received only letters saying that her request was being reviewed.

Johnson was honored at the American Military Partner Association's inaugural National Gala Dinner where she told the audience that the VA had "decided to retroactively recognize me," the Defense Department release says.

The widow thanked her "family" within the American Military Partner Association.

Members of the group were there for her, she said, when the "unthinkable happened and continue to be there for me and others as we serve."

Rosemary Freitas Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the Pentagon has begun several programs that will help to ensure that service members have full access to benefits that the law affords them.

"Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian," Williams said. "And now we can say of our military spouses and partners, 'Welcome aboard.'"

CNNMoney's Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.

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