On Sept. 20, 2011, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed. The policy served as a sort of compromise between people who wanted to continue to ban gay men and women from serving in the military, which had been the case prior to 1993, and those who felt that Americans should be eligible to serve regardless of sexual orientation.
In other words, until Sept. 20, 2011, service members were punished and even discharged with prejudice for being gay or bisexual. Now, it's time to restore their honor and give them the benefits they deserve. Here's how:
There are several different types of discharges:
- Honorable — For service members who meet or exceed the required standards of service. An honorable discharge comes with four major benefit programs, including disability compensation and medical care as well as pension programs and education.
- General — For service members whose performance is satisfactory but is marked by a considerable departure in duty performance and conduct. A general discharge will also come with the benefit programs available to those honorably discharged.
- Other Than Honorable — The most severe form of administrative discharge, representing a serious departure from the conduct and performance expected of military members. The majority of veterans' benefits are not available to individuals who receive an Other Than Honorable discharge.
- Bad Conduct — A punitive discharge that can only be given out by a court-martial. Virtually all veterans' benefits are forfeited by a Bad Conduct Discharge.
- Dishonorable — A punitive discharge handed out by a court-martial for the most reprehensible conduct, including sexual assault and murder.
Downgraded discharges not only result in the loss of benefits, they carry with them shame and stigma, as well.
As reported by The Bay Area Reporter, "Advocates for LGBT veterans estimate that roughly 114,000 U.S. service members were "involuntarily separated" from the military due to their sexual orientation between the end of World War II and the repeal in 2011 of the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that barred LGBT people from serving openly in the military. While many of those veterans could likely qualify to correct or upgrade their discharges, just 8% had done so as of 2018, according to a report presented that April at a conference held at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School."
Vets can also receive help from non-profit organizations like Modern Military Association of America, dedicated to advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and veteran community, or Swords to Ploughshares, which provides assessment and case management, employment and training, housing, and legal assistance to veterans.
Veterans are being encouraged to upgrade their discharges to finally receive the benefits they deserve. Veterans can start by reading some of the literature shared by Swords to Ploughshares about what to expect from the process. They can reach out to a non-profit to ask for help and advocacy, or they can go directly to the Veterans Affairs website and apply for a Discharge Update.
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