To this day, more than 100,000 patriotic American veterans still have no practical way to get their less than honorable discharges due to homosexuality upgraded to 'honorable.' I'm talking about members of the Greatest Generation who served in World War II and Korea whose last wish is to have their service honored, to be buried in a Veterans Cemetery with a uniformed bugler playing taps and giving the American flag from their coffin to someone they loved. I'm talking about many thousands of Vietnam Vets, aging now with old war wounds and aching still over the the lifelong insult of having been dishonorably discharged simply because of who they loved, still being denied the benefits they earned serving their nation in war. And onward through the decades, there are all those patriots who served through Iraq and Afghanistan who were betrayed by bigots and discharged simply because of who they are. The fact is that the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell did nothing to rectify the wrong done to these American patriots, even now. American Veterans for Equal Rights and others have campaigned for years for Congress to clean up all the past discrimination done to our vets who served with honor and distinction.
Now, a bipartisan effort in the US Senate and US House of Representatives seeks to at long last enable our forgotten vets to have their honor and benefits restored. The Restore Honor to Service Member Act was reintroduced in both the Senate and House on July 15th 2015. It was originally introduced, in the previous session, by the same members of Congress: Senators Gillibrand (NY) and Schatz (HI) and Representatives Pocan (WI) and Rangel (NY). The bill, simply, would streamline and automate the currently decades-long discharge upgrade process for those less than honorably discharged due to homosexuality.
The Press Release, below, issued by Representative Pocan, outlines the details of the bill.
Rep. Pocan, Rangel & Sen. Schatz, Gillibrand
Jul 15, 2015
Bicameral Bill Would Help Recognize Gay and Lesbian Service Members for Honorable Military Service
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) along with U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, legislation that will help service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.
“As our nation continues to make great strides toward full equality, we must also do everything possible to rectify the effects of past discriminatory policies,” said Representative Pocan. “Our veterans risked their lives for our country, and it is crucial that those discharged from the armed forces due to their sexual orientation receive the recognition and benefits they deserve. The Restore Honor to Service Members Act streamlines this process, ensuring their service is respected and valued in the eyes of our country."
“I am proud to re-introduce the Restore Honor to Service Members Act together with Senator Schatz and Congressman Pocan,” said Representative Rangel. “As a Korean War veteran, I understand how much this recognition means for our Service Members who faced discrimination. It is about time we pay proper tribute to the veterans who deserve to be honored for their valiant service to our country. Seeking redress for them is not only the right thing to do but also will correct historical injustice."
“From the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality, we have made great strides in the fight to end discrimination. But there is still more work to be done to protect and promote full equality and ensure we help right our past wrongs,” said Senator Schatz. “Today, thousands of brave men and women who served our country are still denied the benefits and honorable service record they deserve. It’s long past time we honor our commitment to all our service members and finally restore the dignity of gay and lesbian veterans who were unjustly discharged from our military.”
“The Restore Honor to Service Members Act will help streamline the process for veterans to clear their records of discriminatory discharges,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Veterans who honorably serve our nation should not be defending themselves against unwarranted punishment based solely on sexual orientation. Our service members deserve to receive the recognition they earned for their sacrifice and courage.”
Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances. As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and may not be able to claim veteran status. The consequences of a negative discharge also include preventing some veterans from voting or making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.
The legislation is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets.org, OutServe-SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign, American Veterans for Equal Rights, Lambda Legal, Swords to Plowshares, the American Bar Association, Universal Unitarian Association, and the American Humanist Association.
In addition to Representatives Pocan and Rangel, The Restore Honor to Service Members Act has 97 cosponsors and has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The bill is also cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Meanwhile in Oregon, not coincidentally, the Oregon Legislature approved a bill, introduced by State Senator Sara Gelser, creating a state LGBT Veterans' Services Coordinator specifically to assist Oregon's LGBT vets seeking discharge upgrades. If the federal bill is passed, Oregon's LGBT vets will have someone ready and able to help them, without cost, with the paperwork to file for discharge upgrades. Its about time that those who served and sacrificed get some recognition and help.