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LGBTQ+ veterans dismissed for their gender identity or sexual orientation to receive benefits

Queer service members dismissed due to the now-repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy will now be eligible to receive the benefits their straight, cis counterparts do.

LGBTQ+ veterans dismissed for their gender identity or sexual orientation to receive benefits
Image Source: Democrat Lawmakers Hold A Rally Against The Trump Administration's Transgender Military Ban. WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

LGBTQ+ folks who formerly served in the United States military and received other than honorable discharges for their gender identity, sexual orientation, or HIV status will now be eligible for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Department made the announcement on the 10th anniversary of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, a law that allowed Americans to serve so long as they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation or gender identity. Up until now, LGBTQ+ veterans were excluded from many veteran services and benefits, including access to medical care, compensation, pensions, education, and were not permitted to reenlist, CBS News reports.


"At VA, we continuously work not only to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans but also to address ongoing issues that LGBTQ+ veterans face as a result of the military's decades-long official policy of homophobia and transphobia," announced Kayla Williams, the assistant secretary for public affairs for the VA, in a blog post. "LGBTQ+ veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services." While the announcement does not indicate a legal change, it does clarify the Department's existing policy on veterans' benefits.


Now, as long as discharged service members' records do not "implicate a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits," LGBTQ+ veterans will qualify for the same benefits as their straight, cis counterparts. Furthermore, those who had a "Character of Discharge" case that was initially denied will now have the opportunity to have their case reviewed. In her blog post, Williams expressed her hope that this would encourage LGBTQ+ veterans who have not applied to have their discharges adjusted to do so.


She also discussed her own experiences of understanding her sexual orientation. Williams, who chose to "present as straight" while fighting to repeal DADT, wrote, "It made sense at the time that there was a more pressing need for me as a woman married to a man to say, 'No one in my unit cared if anyone was gay while we were in Iraq.' I could talk credibly about how the lack of sufficient Arabic linguists harmed our effectiveness downrange, and my own identity seemed irrelevant. It took many years for me to shed the toxic legacy of having served under DADT and come back out of the closet; I'm proud to recognize this anniversary as my authentic self."


According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 14,000 gay and lesbian service members were discharged from the military in the 18 years the DADT policy was in place. It had originally come into effect in February 1994, after being enacted by former President Bill Clinton. The legislation was repealed in 2010, after it became increasingly a matter of public debate. While LGBTQ+ veterans will now rightfully receive their dues, it is time to have a more critical conversation about how the US military and the larger industrial-military complex continue to oppress marginalized communities across the world—including LGBTQ+ folks—through its imperialist projects. For instance, as the US leaves Afghanistan in shambles, the country's LGBTQ+ citizens are most at risk of experiencing harm.


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