New bill could restore veteran benefits to 114,000 unfairly discharged LGBTQ military members

Shoulder of a soldier wearing a rainbow flag patch on his uniform
Photo: Shutterstock

Out Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) has reintroduced legislation to protect LGBTQ veterans.

It’s called the SERVE Act (Securing the Rights our Veterans Earned). It would guarantee and protect Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits for LGBTQ veterans discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Related: Why isn’t there a remedy for LGBTQ veterans that lost their pride & and benefits?

The law would cover those discharged under World War II, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender servicemembers.

It’s difficult to know how many LGBTQ service members were discharged under the military’s different anti-LGBTQ policies, though one estimate puts the figure near 114,000 people, according to the Modern Military Association of America. An estimated 13,000 LGBTQ service members were discharged from 1994 to 2008 under DADT, the Center for American Progress reported. Countless others never re-enlisted because of the program.

Most received an Other Than Honorable (OTH) or Entry-Level Separation (ELS) discharges which don’t often explicitly state LGBTQ identity as the reason. These discharges cause LGBTQ veterans to lose access to VA health care and benefits such as education, burial and memorial services and home loans, Pappas said.

The unfair discharges drove some LGBTQ veterans to fall into depression or substance abuse. The discharges can also make it hard for LGBTQ vets to get jobs since many employers don’t understand the difference between a dishonorable discharge and the “other than honorable” discharge, Marketplace reported.

LGBTQ veterans can have their discharge papers reviewed and modified, but the process can take months and many LGBTQ veterans don’t even realize they’re eligible.

“A double standard continues to persist for LGBTQ+ servicemembers and veterans who suffered from government-sponsored discriminatory policies simply because of who they are,” Pappas said. “As we near the tenth anniversary of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it’s long past time that these veterans are afforded the benefits they’ve rightfully earned defending our country.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, of which Pappas is a member, supports the legislation, as do 45 House members, including House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA), a fellow gay legislator.

The SERVE Act is supported by the Minority Veterans of America, the Modern Military Association of America, Equality California, For All Vets, Forge VFR, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality/NCTE Action Fund, Student Veterans of America, Secure Families Initiative, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Cohen Veterans Network and PFLAG National.

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