Schatz, Ernst, Young Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation To Restore Honor To Service Members Unfairly Discharged Due To Sexual Orientation
WASHINGTON – Today, on the 10-year anniversary of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy repeal, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) reintroduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act. The bipartisan legislation corrects the military records of service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned, building on Senator Schatz’s 2020 National Defense Authorization Act amendment which turned the Department of Defense’s temporary process for service members to correct their records into permanent law.
“As we mark 10 years since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we must continue working to right the wrongs caused by past discriminatory policy,” said Senator Schatz. “Tens of thousands of gay and lesbian veterans were unjustly discharged from the military, then denied the benefits and honorable service records that are rightfully theirs. This bill ensures every veteran receives what they deserve.”
“Veterans who served our country honorably should receive the benefits they deserve. This bipartisan effort will help veterans correct their military records and ensure they are properly recognized for their sacrifice and service,” said Senator Ernst.
“Addressing the injustices of the past is the right thing to do and will help to ensure all veterans are entitled to the privileges and benefits that they have earned. I’m proud to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we work to restore honor to those who courageously served our nation in the armed forces,” said Senator Young.
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, and as a consequence may be disqualified from accessing benefits they are entitled to and unable to claim veteran status. A negative discharge may also prevent veterans from voting or make it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.
Many veterans affected by discriminatory policies such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are still unaware they can have their records corrected or initiate a review. In an effort to continue Congress’s work to correct this historic wrong, the Schatz-Ernst-Young legislation would:
- Require the Department of Defense to reach out to veterans who faced discrimination because of their sexual orientation about the process for correcting their records;
- Authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to use the date of a discharge characterization upgrade as the date by which it can determine a former member’s eligibility for accessing time-limited benefits; and
- Require each military branch to execute a historical review of its discriminatory policies, creating an official record that former members could draw on to seek a change in discharge characterization.
The Restore Honor to Service Members Act is supported by the Unitarian Universalist Association, VoteVets.org, and PFLAG.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and has more than 60 cosponsors.