Unfinished business: justice for those who were not only not thanked for their service, but ruined for attempting it.
Since the Second World War, more than 100,000 service members are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation, many with less-than-honorable discharges that have barred them from the benefits that they earned. Without a bill to protect these veterans, thousands of Americans who risked their lives to serve this country will continue to be denied access to the GI Bill and veterans’ health care, and they will have a more difficult time finding civilian employment. Even those whose discharges were deemed “honorable” still face a high risk of discrimination. Many times, the reason for their discharge may indicate their sexual orientation, threatening their privacy when they share their paperwork with employers and landlords who may use that information to deny them a job or housing, either overtly or under a false pretense.
For the tens of thousands discharged before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” went into effect in 1994, it is nearly impossible to prove that they were discriminated against and discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. The military did not openly admit its prejudice against gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, but it still used sexual orientation to decide that many service members were unfit to serve, and kicked them out. For many of these veterans, there was no additional aggravating circumstance surrounding their other-than-honorable discharge — only sexual orientation — yet since this discrimination is often not captured in a service member’s record, it is difficult to correct.
The Department of Defense has already begun working to give service members who were discharged solely because of their sexual orientation the chance to restore their records to reflect their honorable military service. However, that process remains onerous for many service members, often requiring them to retain legal counsel to navigate red tape and produce paperwork that they may not have. Moreover, there is no legal requirement that the appeals process always remain available to gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans seeking corrective action.