U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – Photo: Facebook.
A new bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday would correct the military records of gay and lesbian soldiers discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
By acknowledging their service as honorable, it would also allow them to recoup the benefits they earned but were denied as a result of their discharge.
The Restore Honor to Service Members Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in the Senate and U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Katie Hill (D-Calif.) in the House, would seek to correct the injustices committed against gay and lesbian former soldiers who were forced to leave the military with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge,” or “dishonorable” due to their sexual orientation.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 Americans were discharged under such circumstances since the end of World War II.
Because of their negative discharge status, those surviving individuals who were dismissed due to their sexual orientation have been denied the opportunity to take advantage of certain health and educational benefits that they otherwise would have been eligible for, and may have made it harder for people to acquire housing or civilian employment when they become the subject of background checks.
“Veterans who honorably served our nation should not have to fight for their benefits,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “The Restore Honor to Service Members Act would clear discriminatory discharges they received on their records due solely to their sexual orientation. Our veterans deserve the recognition and benefits they earned for the sacrifices they made for our country, and I urge my colleagues to join me and pass this important bill.”
The bill would also require the Department of Defense to reach out to veterans who were discharged due to their sexual orientation to inform them that they have the option of having their records corrected or initiating a review of the circumstances that led to their discharge.
“We must correct the wrongs that the government committed when it dishonorably discharged veterans from the armed forces due to sexual orientation and ensure that these veterans receive the recognition and benefits they deserve,” Pocan, who is one of the co-chairs of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, said in a statement. “The Restore Honor to Service Members Act streamlines this process — ensuring that the service and sacrifices of our veterans are respected and valued in the eyes of our country — and I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this legislation forward.”
The legislation has support from organizations including American Veterans for Equal Rights, VoteVets.org, OutServe-SLDN, and the Human Rights Campaign.
The bill has 100 co-sponsors in the House and nearly two dozen co-sponsors in the Senate.
“There is no higher honor than service to our country — the stain of discriminatory practices have no business on the records of our brave LGBT service members,” Hill said in a statement calling the bill “long overdue.”
“This bill is about confronting past discrimination,” said Schatz. “Hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian veterans were unjustly discharged from the military, and then denied access to the benefits and honorable service records that are rightfully theirs. This bill is a chance for us to make it right.”
Andy Blevins, the executive director of the Modern Military Association of America and a Naval veteran discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” issued a statement praising the introduction of the bill.
“Hundreds of thousands of service members were discharged from the military due to deeply harmful, discriminatory policies that singled them out for no other reason than their actual or perceived sexual orientation,” Blevins said. “These veterans deserve to have their records rightfully upgraded to reflect their honorable service, and they deserve full access to the veterans’ benefits they earned.”