These changes are long-awaited, but there’s still some waiting as the Pentagon will attempt to extend the benefits to same-sex service members by Aug. 31 and no later than Oct. 1 of this year. Amanda Terkel at HuffPo:

More than a year after lifting the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military, the Pentagon has extended certain benefits to these service members and their families.

Gay rights groups have been pressing the Pentagon to extend equal benefits to gay service members and their families since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Thebenefits include commissary privileges, access to family support initiatives and joint duty assignments. The move was one of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s last moves as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and it will likely be one of his most lasting legacies.

The statement by Panetta (more details on the plan here):

“Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense.

“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy.  It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country.  The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated.  Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.

“Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation.  Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.”One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land.  There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.  While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation.  Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.

“While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible.  One of the great successes at the Department of Defense has been the implementation of DADT repeal.  It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community.  I am confident in the military services’ ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months.”

Outserve-SLDN has a FAQ up, and had this reaction to the news.

Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson today praised outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta for his decision to extend to nearly the full extent permitted under current law the benefits available to gay and lesbian service members and their families. Though Panetta’s announcement did not include a number of important items that could have been granted – including burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel for spouses, which remain under consideration – Robinson called the package “substantive” and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still on the books.

“Secretary Panetta’s decision today answers the call President Obama issued in his inaugural address to complete our nation’s journey toward equality, acknowledging the equal service and equal sacrifice of our gay and lesbian service members and their families. We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality – steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families,” said Robinson.

HRC President Chad Griffin:

 ”Today, the Pentagon took a historic step forward toward righting the wrong of inequality in our armed forces, but there is still more work to be done. Gay and lesbian service members and their families make sacrifices every day, and this country owes them every measure of support we can provide. Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the Obama administration has shown true leadership on this issue. But even today, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act makes inequality for gay and lesbian military families a legal requirement. It’s time to right this wrong.
When the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA in the coming weeks, they should take note of the real harm this law inflicts every day. The Court should reflect on the sacrifice made by Americans like Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson, whose wife was killed in action late last year, or the family of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who succumbed to cancer earlier this week. In both cases, DOMA barred specific benefits that could soften the tragic blow of the loss of a loved one. The Court should strike down this hateful law once and for all so that this country can finally guarantee full equality for all who serve.”
Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of Courage Campaign:
“We applaud Sec. Panetta and the Obama Administration on extending benefits to same-sex partners of military service-members.  Our fighting men and women all deserve the same comforts and benefits for their service, regardless of their sexual orientation, and this decision reaffirms that. The ability to be with loved ones in military hospitals is a great comfort that has been too long denied to the many brave gay service members and their families who sacrifice so much to fight for this country.This decision also highlights the need for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to end, as too many benefits are still denied to our troops.

All eyes are now on the nine justices of the Supreme Court who will hear two cases that can forever erase the legal discrimination against gays and lesbians in matters of family law.  No matter how determined our president is, and he is very determined, the Supreme Court has to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prevents the military and the entire federal government from granting legal equality to gays and lesbians. The time has come.”