New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) both recently signed legislation that will restore state military benefits to veterans who were dishonorably discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Cuomo signed the Restoration of Honor Act into law yesterday and Raimondo signed a similar bill last Friday.
While the new laws won’t allow dishonorably discharged LGBTQ veterans to regain access to federal military benefits, they at least establish a process for such veterans to upgrade their discharge status and apply with the federal government to have their records upgraded, according to the Modern Military Association of America.
An estimated 100,000 LGBTQ soldiers have been discharged from the start of World War II to the 2011 repeal of the military’s 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on out queer soldiers.
While Rhode Island’s bill allows discharged soldiers to access benefits — like residing within the Rhode Island Veterans Home and being buried at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter — New York’s bill goes further by also restoring over 50 state benefits for veterans who “received less than honorable discharges” for disorders related to military sexual trauma, brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
BREAKING: I just signed legislation giving veterans who were denied honorable discharge due to their LGBTQ identity the right to have their NYS benefits restored.
With this measure we are sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) November 12, 2019
In June 2019, several Democratic House members re-introduced the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” which would change the military records of LGBTQ servicemembers to reflect honorable discharges and reinstate their access to federal benefits.
The same act was introduced in 2013 but has never been able to pass Republican opposition in Congress.
The signing of these state bills follow the release of a plan last week by Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to overturn Trump’s trans military ban on first day in office. Her plan also promises a challenge to the Pentagon’s policy of discharging HIV-positive servicemembers and a guarantee to ensure transition-related medical care and specialized LGBTQ care within the Department of Veterans Affairs’s Center for Minority Veterans.