Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) have filed a bill to cleanse the records of the tends of thousands of lesbian and gay veterans who served in the military but were expelled because of their sexual orientation. The Defense Department has been working to reverse the dishonorable and less-than-honorable discharges of these veterans.
The “Restore Honor to Serve Members Act” is designed to give to those veterans the status of ‘honorable discharge’ to anyone who was discharged just for their sexual orientation. Between World War II and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011, roughly 114,000 service members discharged for being lesbian or gay.
Pocan, the co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, stated “As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past. Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve. By enshrining the implementation of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal into law, our country can finally close this dark chapter of our history and move forward.”
Rangel added in that “As an American, a Congressman, and a Korean War Veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country. Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their Honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation.”
HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt said in response to the legislation that “The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation’s Armed Forces. It is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service. We are thankful that Reps. Pocan (D-WI) and Rangel (D-NY) have addressed this issue with the ‘Restore Honor to Service Members Act.’”
Should this go into law, it would mean not only removing a stain from the paperwork of these veterans, but it would also mean a restoration of their veteran’s benefits. As is noted in the press release “In many states, a dishonorable discharge is treated as a felony, and service members receiving a general discharge, a lesser offense, can encounter grave difficulties acquiring civilian employment. All were barred from reenlisting in the military. Depending on the discharge received, service members may also be blocked from voting, unemployment benefits, participating in the GI Bill or receiving veteran benefits such as health care, VA disability, and ceremonial burial rights at military cemeteries.”
The bill is intended to turn the current review policy which was outlined by the Undersecretary of Defense into law, and ensures that all service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation are able to get a remedy for their discharge with a certain amount of alacrity. Also purged from the records will be any mention of the service member’s sexual orientation, making it easier for them to get jobs in places where non-discrimination laws do not protect people based on sexual orientation.