Oregon lawmakers vote to assist gay veterans apply for change in discharge status

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers gave an assist to gay veterans in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.

If Gov. Kate Brown signs off on the bills approved Monday, Oregon would be the first state to hire a coordinator to help LGBT veterans upgrade a less-than-honorable discharge received because of their sexual orientation.

The legislation would establish a new LGBT coordinator at the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs would help gay veterans apply for a change in their discharge status. An honorable discharge is generally required to qualify for many state and federal veterans benefits, including those of the G.I. Bill. Gays and lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the military until 2011.

Advocates say veterans have a disproportionate number of discharge appeals pending.

“I have personally served with folks who were discharged because of their orientation,” said Rep. Paul Evans, a Democrat from Monmouth and retired Air Force major. “Only two things really matter: Are they serving as well as they possibly can? And are they doing everything they can while they’re there to make a better and stronger society?” he added.

Basic Rights Oregon, a nonprofit gay and transgender advocacy group based in Portland, said in submitted testimony that veterans were dismissed under the 1993 federal law Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. But veterans have also been discharged because of the sexual preferences dating back to World War II, the group said, and all often need help navigating the red tape to get their discharge status changed.

Brown, a Democrat who is the nation’s first bisexual governor, does not weigh in on legislation before she signs it.

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