Under new legislation proposed by Democrats Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY) and Rep. Mark Pocan (WI), U.S. military service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation can now have their records restored to reflect their honorable service. A joint press release from the congressmen’s offices said that the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” is designed to help the Department of Defense rectify its record of discrimination against LGBT service personnel and clear the records of an estimated 114,000 men and women who were forced out of the service since World War II and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011.
“There are a lot of things that can be changed by a changed discharge status,” Pocan explained in an interview with Raw Story. “It puts you back in place for anything you’d be able to have as someone who’d been honorably discharged, which goes from the GI Bill to receiving veterans’ benefits to ceremonial burial rites,” including a flag for the veteran’s casket, an honor guard and 21-gun salute.
“In some states,” Pocan continued, “you’re blocked from voting or unemployment benefits because a dishonorable discharge can be considered a felony.”
In the press release, Pocan, who is co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, said, “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.”
In the same release, Rep. Rangel said, “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.”
The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” would also give LGBT veterans and former service members who were improperly discharged because of their orientation a “timely, consistent and transparent review.” Under the law, the military will also remove any mention of a veteran’s orientation from the official record so that they are not automatically “outed” to the review board when they submit their files for evaluation.
“We wanted to really completely close the book on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Pocan to Raw Story. “Then we learned about the process [for changing a discharge status] being very cumbersome, not timely, and confusing. Sometimes you need a lawyer just to go through the process. It wasn’t really clear what’s required of you to do this. We wanted to make it a little more clear. That’s also part of the bill.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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