The United States Department of Veterans Affairs is taking steps to ameliorate the damage done to LGBTQ service members before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was repealed.
On Monday (September 20), VA Sec. Denis McDonough announced that the agency is reinstating all benefits for veterans who were given “Other Than Honorable” (OTH) discharge because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status while DADT was effective.
The sweeping, discriminatory policy was scrapped on September 20, 2011, 10 years ago to the date of McDonough’s announcement. It was in effect for 18 years and impacted approximately 100,000 LGBTQ veterans, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Many of those former service members have been unable to fully access VA-issued benefits and services they rightfully earned.
The announcement is not technically a change in law; however, many LGBTQ veterans who were given an OTH discharge due to DADT have yet to apply for a discharge upgrade, according to VA. The agency hopes this statement changes that.
LGBTQ veterans discharged for their gender identity or sexual orientation to receive VA benefits https://t.co/nAwSzAHzpt
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 21, 2021
“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,” wrote Kayla Williams, assistant secretary for public affairs at the agency, in a VA blog post announcing the update.
In a statement, JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president of policy and political affairs, praised the agency’s decision.
“For many of these veterans, the injustice didn’t stop when their careers were cut short,” Winterhof explained. “Because LGBTQ+ veterans often received ’Other Than Honorable’ discharges, they were deemed ineligible for the vitally important services and benefits they earned. We are grateful to the Biden-Harris administration for taking this step to mend the immeasurable harm caused by the military’s hateful anti-LGBTQ+ policies.”
Today, about 6% of U.S. military personnel openly identify as LGBTQ. Despite the previous administration’s myriad attempts to bar transgender and gender non-conforming Americans from serving in the military, they are welcome to serve as of January 2021.