Members of the military honorably discharged because of their homosexuality since Nov. 10, 2004 will receive full separation pay after a settlement reached yesterday between the Defense Department and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a class action lawsuit representing 181 honorably discharged veterans who had had their separation pay cut in half due to the discriminatory policy. Approximately $2.4 million was withheld from gay veterans under the law, which was not part of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
According to the ACLU, all servicemembers covered by the lawsuit will be notified by the government that they are eligible to receive their full separation pay. Federal law entitled those involuntarily and honorably discharged from the military after six years of service to separation pay in order to ease the transition to civilian life. Due to the statute of limitations, the settlement only applies to those discharged since Nov. 10, 2004.
Under the settlement, all servicemembers covered by the lawsuit will be contacted by the government and notified that they are eligible to opt in to the settlement and receive 100 percent of the separation pay that they would have received had they been discharged for any other honorable reason.
"It makes no sense to continue to penalize service members who were discharged under a discriminatory statute that has already been repealed," said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, in statement. "The amount of the pay owed to these veterans is small by military standards, but is hugely significant in acknowledging their service to their country."
The lead plaintiff in the case, Richard Collins, said the decision was momentous to those who were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation.
"This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are," said Collins, a nine-year Air Force veteran who was stationed in New Mexico when he was discharged after being seen kissing his boyfriend off-base. "We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans."
[Photo: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons).]