A group of Democratic lawmakers lead by Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore are asking the Defense Department to allow all service members discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to apply for honorable-discharge status—which would make them eligible for veterans' benefits.
The 32 signatories of the letter include the four openly gay members of Congress—Reps. Barney Frank (MA), Tammy Baldwin (WI), David Cicilline (RI) and Jared Polis (CO), reports the Washington Blade.
In the letter to Gates, the lawmakers note that service members separated under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" may not have received "honorable" discharges. Some discharged troops may have received a “general” or “other than honorable” discharge, the lawmakers write, and those discharged under the prior regulatory ban could have received a “dishonorable” discharge. The letter states that these designations could impair these service members’ ability to receive veterans benefits.
The letter notes that former service members seeking to change the designation of their discharge can petition the Service Boards for the Correction of Military Records or Service Discharge Review Boards for redress. Still, the lawmakers write that the process for these petitions can be lengthy and can lead to disparate outcomes.
In the letter to [Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric] Shinseki, lawmakers ask the secretary to “study and implement” new procedures to make easier the process by which service members can seek to have benefits restored — even if they believe their discharge characterization was inappropriate. ...
Benefits that are available to former service members through the Department of Veterans Affairs include certain health care services, compensation for survivors of certain servicemembers and veterans, disability payments for veterans, education benefits and home financing assistance.
Stars and Stripes adds: "Troops with other-than-honorable dismissals can apply for health care related to service-connected injuries, but the department can deny treatment for health issues that develop later in life. They are not eligible for GI Bill benefits, and may be refused veterans home loans. ... Even troops with honorable status have 'homosexual conduct' stamped on their discharge paperwork, which creates privacy headaches when civilian employers ask for evidence of their military experience."