Earlier this week the Department of Defense marked the 12th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) with a promising announcement: acknowledging the on-going harms of this policy, the Department of Defense will begin to proactively review the discharge status of the 2,000+ veterans impacted and launch an outreach campaign for self-help.
Veterans and other activists have been fighting to address the injustices wrought by DADT and its predecessor policies for decades. Just last month, a group of LGBTQ+ veterans discharged under DADT sued the Department of Defense demanding DOD remove discriminatory references to sexual orientation on the veterans’ official records and proactively upgrade the discharge statuses of impacted veterans. You can learn more about this ongoing case here.
While we applaud DOD’s announcements that they will proactively review some DADT discharges, it is important to acknowledge that these steps are not enough.
Sadly, because of the narrow focus on DADT, the veterans who will benefit from this new initiative represent less than 10% of the estimated 30,000+ LGBTQ+ veterans who have been denied benefits because of explicit anti-LGBTQ+ policies since the 1980s.
This announcement also fails to address the effect of hidden discrimination. We know from our experience serving LGBTQ+ veterans that the military commonly accused and punished LGBTQ+ service members for seemingly-unrelated misconduct, yet DOD announces that it may not upgrade service members discharged under DADT who have misconduct allegations in their record. Instead, DOD should automatically upgrade all service members if the reason for discharge on the DD-214 is related to homosexual conduct, regardless of other “misconduct” in the record. The DADT discharge indicates that the strongest reason for separation at the time was because the service member was LGBTQ+, and not actually because the other misconduct in the record warranted separation.
We believe a full document review is unnecessary, will cause more delay for veterans who have been waiting decades for recognition for their service, and will lead to further denials of upgrades based on minor misconduct that was likely tolerated for straight service-members at the time.
We will continue the fight for LGBTQ+ and all veterans to correct their records and regain the benefits they earned. Learn more about our ongoing work to understand and fight inequity through the Veterans Inclusion Project here.
Thank you to our friends and colleagues across the country who are fighting for LGBTQ+ veterans and service members, including:
- Minority Veterans of America: www.minorityvets.org
- Legal Aid at Work: www.legalaidatwork.org
- Swords to Plowshares: www.swords-to-plowshares.org
- Modern Military Association of America: www.modernmilitary.org
- Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic: www.law.yale.edu/clinics/vlsc
- and all of the LGBTQ+ Community Centers and nonprofit agencies across the United States. Find a community center near you here.