A federal fund created to compensate victims of the Sept. 11 attacks has awarded $500,000 to the lesbian partner of a woman who died at the Pentagon, a decision gay rights advocates hailed as a milestone.
Sheila Hein, 51, a civilian Army management analyst who died when a hijacked American Airlines jet slammed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., was wearing a gold band given to her by Peggy Neff, her partner of 18 years. An emerald ring that had been a gift from Neff was missing from Hein's remains.
"It had been pulverized," Neff wrote in an affidavit filed with her federal claim.
"She was my entire world and my soul mate, my closest confidante and my best friend," Neff wrote.
Under Virginia laws, Neff was not eligible for state aid. But the head of a Department of Justice fund established after the attacks concluded that Neff was entitled to compensation.
Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund, wrote on Nov. 26 that Neff had accepted $557,390.
The letter, released this week by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented Neff, was first reported by the Washington Post.
Neff's lawyers called the decision "a huge step forward for the federal government."
It was unclear whether the decision set a precedent for other partners of those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.