WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Thursday introduced legislation to correct the records of service members discharged from the U.S. military solely due to their sexual orientation prior to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to reflect honorable service and reinstate benefits they would have earned.
“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a watershed moment, ending institutionalized discrimination that unjustly targeted gay and lesbian members of the military,” said Schatz said. “Yet thousands of former service members still bear the scars of that discrimination, with their military records tarnished with discharges other than honorable and marks on their records that compromise their right to privacy.”
“Many of these brave men and women that served our country are currently barred from benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and in the most egregious cases they are prevented from legally calling themselves a veteran,” he said. “This needs to be corrected now.”
Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances.
As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits, such as veterans’ health care and GI bill tuition assistance, and may not be able to claim veteran status.
The consequences of a negative discharge status can often be far-reaching, preventing some veterans from voting and making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.
“A clean, honorable record is long overdue for veterans who were discharged solely because of who they love. Our veterans served our country courageously and with dignity and we must act to give them the appropriate recognition they deserve.”
U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) introduced the House companion bill in June 2013 where it is pending consideration.