Joe Krumbach, husband of deceased Army vet Jerry Hatcher, has won his fight for retroactive survivor benefits from the Veterans Administration.
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In 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the provision of DOMA that kept Edie Windsor from inheriting her wife's estate, Joe Krumbach, a mortgage broker from Vashon Island, Washington, applied to the VA for retroactive survivor benefits as the widower of a veteran disabled during the Vietnam War.
The Veterans Administration rejected his claim.
"I was pissed," recalls Joe. "How dare you say ‘no.’ His service was no different than any other service and denying someone those benefits is inherently wrong. If I had a vagina, and my name was Josephine, this would not be a discussion."
So Joe decided not to take no for an answer.
"It's not about the money for me. I hate the word 'entitled," Joe clarified his motive. "But what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."
Joe and Jerry met in 1989 at the Ritz Cafe on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Joe said Jerry “rescued me from someone who wasn’t going to take no for an answer.” Jerry, 23, had recently moved to Seattle after graduating from Washington State University. Jerry was a 41-year-old Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and the Army Commendation for Valor. Jerry was the co-owner of a bar and restaurant called Dante's in the University District.
Fourteen years later, in 2003, Joe Krumbach and Jerry Hatcher, still very much in love, registered in Seattle as domestic partners. They had few options. It would be nine more years until the voters of Washington State made marriage by same-sex couples legal.
But the couple threw themselves a wedding anyway, the most opulent flamboyant wedding they could manage. A singer, dressed as Adam Sandler from the movie The Wedding Singer, sang Grow Old With You as Joe and Jerry walked down parallel aisles. A rabbi officiated at the ceremony (photo above) at an alter bedecked with red roses. After the vows, 24 monarch butterflies were released to flutter over the scene. More than 200 guests attended the blowout reception at Salty’s restaurant in West Seattle. A roving Austin Powers impersonator posed for photos with guests, a dolphin ice sculpture in the background. Transportation for tipsy guests waited outside.
The day had everything but a marriage license.
Sadly, in 2008, four years before Washington would convert their civil union to a marriage, Jerry died of cancer at the age of 59. Joe was at his bedside.
The VA told Joe in 2013 that the reason they rejected his claim for "Dependency and Indemnity Compensation" is that Jerry died four years before marriages by same-sex couples were legal. Jerry died before the couple could marry or have their domestic partnership automatically converted to a marriage last June when a Washington State law took effect.
Then this June, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell that marriage is a constitutional right. The Obergefell decision allowed Joe to retroactively amend Jerry's death certificate to show they were married. That made Joe eligible for the benefits, which total about $80,000.
This week, Joe finally won his fight. In a landmark decision, the VA has awarded him the survivor benefits due him as Jerry's spouse.
"I'm sure Jerry is getting a big kick out of this, Joe mused. "I wasn't going to give up. I hope I opened the door for others, and that it's enough to make a difference. Every wave starts with a ripple. If in (Jerry’s) name I can make it better for the next guy, I have succeeded.”
Photo from Joe Krumbach via Twitter