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DADT discharges still discriminate; trio of U.S. Senators want problem fixed

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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WASHINGTON — In a letter Tuesday to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S.Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.),and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) asked the Secretary to use his authority to streamline the process for those discharged under the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in order to expedite discharge paperwork changes and upgrades.

Leon Panetta

The Senators are asking the Department of Defense for a streamlined process for military veterans discharged under DADT with honorable or general discharges and whom are seeking changes to their narrative reason for discharge and their reentry code.

The letter requests that the DOD clarify that the discharge review boards correct discharge paperwork upon receipt of a basic DD Form 293 application, provided that the board can then obtain the veteran’s paperwork, including the DD Form 214 and service record.

It calls on the Defense Department to further clarify that, where there are no aggravating factors found in the service member’s record, the presumption should be in favor of correction.

“For many, making changes to discharge paperwork is a matter of dignity and restoring honor to their patriotic service in our armed forces. For others, it’s about qualifying for long overdue veteran’s benefits. But for others, a discharge from the military for sexual orientation can be a barrier to employment and requires veterans to ‘out’ themselves to future employers,” said Aubrey Sarvis, a U.S. Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).

“It’s time to expedite this process to ensure that this discriminatory law doesn’t do further damage to our veterans and their families,” Sarvis said.

Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September 2011, the Department of Defense has issued guidance regarding how to handle applications by veterans separated on the basis of their sexual orientation who want to have their discharge paperwork changed.

The guidance expands who is eligible to apply to have their documents reviewed and provides specifics on how these documents may be changed. However, for a variety of reasons, each of these must be handled one by one.

In January, SLDN unveiled an online toolkit designed to help LGBT veterans who were discharged for sexual orientation and wish to make changes or upgrades to their discharge paperwork. Since then, SLDN has helped more than 150 LGBT veterans seeking to make these changes.

Editor’s Note: To view the toolkit or request assistance, click here.

Following is the full text of the letter from Gillibrand, Lieberman and Udall:

The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
United States Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Secretary Panetta,

When the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) took effect on September 20, 2011, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley issued a memorandum providing guidance to the military services regarding applications from veterans separated on the basis of their sexual orientation seeking changes to their discharge paperwork. The memorandum made clear that Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) “should normally grant requests to change the narrative reason for a discharge…[and that] requests to re-characterize the discharge to honorable and/or requests to change reentry codes to an immediately-eligible-to-reenter category” should be granted when the original discharge was based solely on DADT and there “were no aggravating factors in the record, such as misconduct.” The guidance goes on to say that while “each request must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” having “an honorable or general discharge should normally…indicate the absence of aggravating factors.

While this guidance was an important step in the right direction, it is insufficient for the vast majority of veterans discharged under DADT. The current process is protracted and overly burdensome for veterans who—according to Dr. Stanley’s guidance—should be entitled to have their discharge documents corrected. Our understanding is that many veterans who meet the criteria outlined above must first gather their service-related paperwork, which many veterans do not possess. The veteran must then file an application with the supporting documentation to overcome the presumption of the DRB that the discharge was proper. To accomplish this, the veteran must argue that the discharge should be changed according to the standards of “propriety” or “equity,” per DRB regulations. Only after overcoming this presumption will the DRB change the discharge paperwork.

We understand that changing discharge paperwork is not a small matter and that in most cases, a careful case-by-case evaluation is warranted. But as long as a former service member’s Narrative Reason for a discharge is “Homosexual Conduct,” “Homosexual Act” or “Homosexual Marriage,” that service member is compelled to be “out” to any future civilian employer and anyone else who sees the document. Likewise, the negative reentry code serves as a barrier to employment opportunities.

Therefore, the process should be streamlined for those veterans discharged under DADT who have honorable or general discharges and only seek changes to their narrative reason for discharge and their reentry code. We thus respectfully request that the Department clarify that DRBs shall correct discharge paperwork upon receipt of a basic DD Form 293 application, provided that the DRB can then obtain the veteran’s DD Form 214 and service record. The Department should further clarify that, where there are no aggravating factors in the service member’s record, the presumption should be in favor of correction.

Veterans who were discharged under DADT should not be compelled to carry with them a narrative reason for separation that indicates their sexual orientation to anyone who sees their discharge document. In order to begin to put the regrettable policy of DADT fully behind us, the process of getting these documents corrected needs to be accessible and achievable for all. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

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