Schatz, Gillibrand Seek Justice for Service Members Discharged Due to Sexual Orientation

Restore Honor to Service Members Act Would Help Correct Records of Service Members Discharged Before Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell Cuts Red Tape to Help Reinstate Benefits Veterans Have Earned


WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced 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.  Schatz and Gillibrand’s legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a watershed moment, ending institutionalized discrimination that unjustly targeted gay and lesbian members of the military,” Senator Schatz said. “Yet thousands of former service members still bear the scars of that discrimination, with their military records tarnished with discharges other than honorable and marks on their records that compromise their right to privacy.  Many of these brave men and women that served our country are currently barred from benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and in the most egregious cases they are prevented from legally calling themselves a veteran.  This needs to be corrected now.”

“We need to right discriminatory discharges for our veterans immediately,” Senator Gillibrand said. “A clean, honorable record is long overdue for veterans who were discharged solely because of who they love. Our veterans served our country courageously and with dignity and we must act to give them the appropriate recognition they deserve.”

The legislation would cut existing red tape at the Department of Defense and simplify the process for veterans who were discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell seeking an opportunity to have their records corrected to reflect an honorable discharge and give the service member all rights, privileges and benefits associated with their honorable service.

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, such as veterans’ health care and GI bill tuition assistance, and may not be able to claim veteran status.  The consequences of a negative discharge status can be far-reaching, preventing some veterans from voting and making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.

Many service members discharged for their sexual orientation after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” went into law in 1993 received “honorable” discharges, but are still at risk of discrimination because the reason for their discharge may indicate their sexual orientation, threatening their privacy when they share their separation paperwork with potential employers or landlords.  In addition, they would have received a negative re-enlistment code barring them from reenlisting in the military, which could erroneously imply to potential civilian employers that they were discharged for bad conduct, stifling their employment opportunities.

“Too many of the 114,000 service members discharged because of their sexual orientation received less than honorable discharges, adding an additional stigma that follows them for their entire lives,” said Allison Herwitt, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign. “We commend Sen. Schatz for introducing the Restore Honor to Service Members Act to help these service members correct their service records.  Our country owes them no less.” 

“LGBT veterans who served and sacrificed in silence during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as those who served before and during ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, deserve to see their service recognized and honored at long last,” said Denny Meyer, national public affairs officer for American Veterans for Equal Rights, the national LGBT veterans service organization. “We endorse and support the efforts by Senators Schatz and Gillibrand and Congressmen Pocan and Rangel to move forward the Restoring Honor to Our Service Members Act, which will accelerate discharge upgrades.”

"The September 2011 repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell' created a brighter future for our LGB service members, allowing them to serve openly without fear of harsh professional repercussions," said Anu Bhagwati, Service Women's Action Network executive director and former Marine Corps Captain. "But this victory for LGB service members' future cannot undo the injuries of the past. Today, SWAN thanks U.S. Senators Schatz, Gillibrand and Udall for seeking to do just that.  The 'Restore Honor to Service Members Act' closes the loop on this discriminatory policy: wiping out dishonorable characterizations tied to sexual orientation and restoring honor to those from whom it was unjustly taken."

“This is about righting a wrong for service members and their families – and finally helping to clear the record for many people who served and protected our country. As a combat veteran of the Iraq war who was discharged because of the faulty Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, I can tell you first hand that this Act means a lot to veterans and service members and their families,” said Kory Rosette, Equality Hawaii Board of Directors member, who served two tours in Iraq and was awarded three meritorious services awards.

The current Department of Defense appeal process for service members to change their discharge narrative is onerous and places the burden on the service members to get a lawyer, produce paperwork they do not have or may never have had and navigate cumbersome red tape.  There is also no legal requirement that the process always remain available to service members seeking corrective action.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act makes the process for restoring a discharge status to honorable permanent law for all who were forced from the military solely because of their sexual orientation.  It creates a simplified process for service members to initiate a timely, consistent and transparent review of their discharge characterization to reflect their honorable military service. The bill would also require the removal of any discharge narrative that indicates sexual orientation from a service member's record.

Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI2) and Charles Rangel (D-NY13) introduced the House companion bill in June 2013 where it is pending consideration. 

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Summary of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act