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Thursday, April 12, 2012

If You Think the Repeal of DADT Ended Discrimination Against Gay Soldiers, You're Wrong

Posted by on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Patty Murray and Major Margaret Witt: Not pleased with the miilitarys treatment of LGBT veterans post-DADT.
  • E.S.
  • Patty Murray and Major Margaret Witt: Not pleased with the miilitary's treatment of LGBT veterans in the post-DADT era.

Between 1993 and 2011, when the U.S. military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was in effect, some 13,500 soldiers were "dishonorably" discharged for being gay.

Back before DADT even existed, hundreds of thousands of other gay servicemembers were kicked out under older discriminatory policies—but for the same homophobic reason.

So how's it going for those gay veterans now that DADT has been repealed and the U.S. military has disavowed its discriminatory past?

Not well, according to a handful of prominent gay veterans who spoke with U.S. Senator Patty Murray on Wednesday morning during a roundtable held at the offices of the Greater Seattle Business Association.

Many gay veterans—especially those kicked out under DADT—are currently being denied benefits they are owed for serving their country, or are being made to jump through ridiculous hoops to get their "dishonorable" discharges changed so that they can start receiving benefits.

“The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a major breakthrough, but it was not the end," Murray admitted on Wednesday. "It was really a beginning.”

Shaun Knittel, a Navy vet who runs a web site designed to help gay veterans, told Murray that a lot of gay vets who were kicked out of the military for being gay "have no idea what their benefits are supposed to be."

No one ever told them on their way out—these weren't exactly nice goodbyes—and these soldiers generally assume the answer is zero benefits. Even if they don't assume this, their feelings about the military often don't predispose them to getting back in touch and figuring out whether they do, indeed, deserve health care, home loan, college, or disability assistance.

At the very least, Knittel and others told Murray, the understaffed veterans health care system desperately needs some sort of gay liaison or ombudsman—or even a team of people like this at veterans hospitals throughout the country—tasked with making sure gay vets feel comfortable learning about and accessing the basic benefits that are supposed to be afforded them by the VA.

“It’s the same as when you have bullying in school," Knittel said. "If you're a closeted gay kid, are you going to go talk to any counselor? No. But if you see a counselor with a rainbow flag on her mug, you might talk to her.”

Before any of this benefit accessing can happen, though, there's the seemingly simple act of getting a gay vet's "dishonorable" discharge—which can affect employment opportunities, levels of health care coverage at veterans hospitals, and more—changed into an honorable discharge.

Right now, however, that process can be so labyrinthine and discouraging that it requires a lawyer's assistance.

“I think that’s tragic," Knittel told Murray.

“I agree," Murray said.

You'd think the obvious solution here would be a sort of blanket amnesty for all the gay servicemembers kicked out under DADT. Just change all those "dishonorable" discharges to "honorable" discharges in one fell swoop and move on. Murray appeared to think so, too. "It seems to me that would be the easiest thing to do," she told me after the meeting was over.

One problem: It's not clear whether the military was keeping good records of who it was discharging under DADT—or before then—simply for being gay. In other words, it may not know who, exactly, to grant blanket amnesty to right now.

Untangling that whole mess, Murray said, "seems to me like a process we should undertake as a country.”

She promised to use her power as Chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to begin doing just that.


Comments (8) RSS

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rob! 1
How about withholding the benefits of any military or civilian employee who failed to note in the records what regulation or legal authority a servicemember was being discharged under? That should get the paperwork updated with blistering speed.
Posted by rob! on April 12, 2012 at 7:53 AM · Report this
rob! 2
And go up the chain of command one level for every week the problem remains. Things may appear to get worse for awhile, then make a remarkable recovery.
Posted by rob! on April 12, 2012 at 8:14 AM · Report this
I thought most were honorable discharges? I am gay and was in the military, and my understanding was that a simple DADT discharge was based on a perceived incompatibility with service - not that you'd done something wrong, but that you said you were gay and that's not okay. You'd only end up with something worse if they said you'd done something against the UCMJ like sodomy or something. Still, I absolutely believe that many gay vets are not aware of or receiving proper veteran benefits.
Posted by sockswithsandals on April 12, 2012 at 8:32 AM · Report this
The military does spend a whole lot of time fussing about the sexual predispositions of its members, doesn't it? I can't actually think of a gayer institution that goes back essentially to the dawn of the written word. I have always been of the sense that while humans certainly have sexual predispositions, we remain sexual opportunists. You put a lot of guys together who depend upon each other for survival with very poor access to the opposite sex, it's unsurprising that soldiers may even develop romantic feelings for each other.

The US army, behaving much like any reactionary closet-faggot, seems to spend a lot of time trying to disavow these claims.
Posted by Central Scrutinizer on April 12, 2012 at 8:41 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 5
The U.S. military is a pretty massive government bureaucracy. Trying to get anything done quickly is nearly impossible.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on April 12, 2012 at 9:07 AM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 6
@3, I'm confused by this too.

I'm also a gay veteran. I served in the early 1980s (prior to DADT). At that time gay servicemembers were given a dishonorable discharge if caught. I thought that was one of the few positive changes under DADT. With DADT a gay servicemember was supposed to get an administrative discharge, not a dishonorable discharge. This article contradicts that. You might want to double-check that, Eli.

A dishonorable discharge carries the equivalent record of a federal felony, which takes away your right to vote (among other rights). Which is of course a ridiculous punishment simply for being gay.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on April 12, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Report this
prompt 7
There is a huge difference between a dishonorable and other discharges, as everyone else is already pointing out. Assuming they didn't get a dishonorable, they should ask for a TAPS class which should have information to help servicemembers who are seperating from the military.
Posted by prompt on April 12, 2012 at 2:26 PM · Report this
DeaconBlues 8
Eli: There are more than two kinds of discharge (those two that everyone knows being "honorable" and "dishonorable"). Gays didn't typically get dishonorable discharges unless they had some other disciplinary issues, as that kind of discharge requires a court martial, and typically these things were handled through non-judicial punishment. Most of them got either a general or an other-than-honorable discharge; the difference is that neither of those are classified as a punitive discharge (as is the dishonorable discharge) and therefore one isn't subject to as many penalties in civilian life, nor does one lose the entirety of their VA benefits (just some or most of them, depending).
Posted by DeaconBlues on April 12, 2012 at 6:45 PM · Report this

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