One Equal World

Restoring Honor to LGBT Service Members

Posted on: November 19, 2015

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

The current rough estimate of how many service members have been summarily dismissed from the army, navy, and air force of the US in the last 70 years because of their sexual orientation is over 100,000. But we’ll never know the true number because for many, other charges were listed as the reason for their discharge. For those on record, many had ‘less-than-honorable’ discharges, which have disqualified them from benefits and protections, like the GI Bill for education and veteran’s health care.

For the thousands discharged before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ became official regulations, it’s nearly impossible for gay, lesbian, bi/pansexual or transgender service members to prove they were discriminated against when they were declared unfit to serve, because it would not have been recorded in their service record.

The repeal of DADT in 2010 made such discrimination illegal, but did nothing for those who suffered under it. The Department of Defense is working to restore dignity and benefits to those service members, to restore their military records to reflect their honorable service. However, the process is not a protected one and requires many legal hoops and steps to go through. This includes counsel that not everyone can afford, and access to records that not everyone has. In addition, there is no legal requirement that the appeals process remain available to anyone.

A bill currently sponsored to congress called “Restore Honor to Service Members” would require this process to be simplified and for access to be protected, specifically making it clear that the burden of documentation is on the Department of Defense, not the applicant. The bill is written by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), and Charles Rangel (D-New York). It has 109 cosponsors in both the House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle.

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