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Lawmakers announce bill to repeal dishonorable discharges given to gay veterans

Friday, June 21, 2013
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WASHINGTON — U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) on Friday proposed legislation that would ensure gay and lesbian service members who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation would have their military records upgraded to reflect honorable service.

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), left, and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.)

Since World War II to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011, approximately 114,000 service members were discharged because of their sexual orientation.

Prior to the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993, most of those discharges were designated as dishonorable or “undesirable,” resulting in a loss of military benefits for those service members.

Under the proposed “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” those discharges would be upgraded to “honorable,” provided there were no aggravating circumstances.

The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” is about more than upgrading a piece of paper, accoding to a statement released by Pocan’s office:

Every form of discharge previously given out prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” carries with it consequences that can follow a service member for his or her entire life.

In many states, a dishonorable discharge is treated as a felony, and service members receiving a general discharge, a lesser offense, can encounter grave difficulties acquiring civilian employment. All were barred from reenlisting in the military.

Depending on the discharge received, service members may also be blocked from voting, unemployment benefits, participating in the GI Bill or receiving veteran benefits such as health care, VA disability, and ceremonial burial rights at military cemeteries.

The bill would also close any remaining loopholes of discrimination against gay service members by reforming the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), bringing it in line with current Supreme Court rulings.

At the moment, the UCMJ criminalizes acts of sodomy; the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” would remove that provision as it relates to consensual acts of sodomy.

“As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

“Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve. By enshrining the implementation of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal into law, our country can finally close this dark chapter of our history and move forward,” Pocan said.

The bill is also supported by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who first hinted at the legislation at the Long Island Pride event earlier this month.

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