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Gay veterans discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' could have benefits restored

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U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Oregon) has introduced a federal bill to reverse dishonorable discharges for veterans who were dismissed under the military's former "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.

The policy was enacted in 1994 to allow LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military but only if they concealed their sexual orientation. The policy was repealed in 2011.

Still, the policy's legacy continues to affect veterans today, Chavez-DeRemer said in a statement. Service members who were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or DADT, have faced discrimination from employers and landlords, she said.

"The Recover Pride in Service Act will ensure these veterans can get their discharge status upgraded without lifting a finger," Chavez-DeRemer said of the bill. "I'm grateful to have strong support from my colleagues, including veterans, and I look forward to working with them to get this overdue fix signed into law."

The act would require the U.S. Department of Defense to inform veterans of their right to request a discharge status review. Additionally, the defense department would have to proactively upgrade all discharges based on sexual orientation from dishonorable to honorable within five years of enactment if the act is approved.

(In September 2023, the defense department said it would proactively review military records of veterans whose "administrative separation was the result of their sexual orientation and who received a less than honorable conditions discharge.")

According to defense department data, 13,472 people were discharged military service under the "Homosexual Conduct" policy between 1994 and 2011, when Don't Ask Don't Tell was in effect; that includes honorable and "other than honorable" categories. Nearly 33,000 people were discharged under that policy going back to 1980.

Chavez-DeRemer told KGW in Portland the Recover Pride in Service Act would apply to people who were dishonorably discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell as well as veterans who served before that policy was enacted.

A dishonorable discharge is considered the most severe military discharge. Someone who is dishonorably discharged may not receive VA benefits, may not possess a firearm, and may lose other veteran benefits. Conduct that may result in a dishonorable discharge includes espionage and felony crimes, like murder.

Chavez-DeRemer's bill, co-sposored by 12 of her fellow Republican representatives, has won support from the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ conservatives.

"Log Cabin Republicans is proud to stand in strong support of this bill, and we urge all Members of Congress to do the same," said Charles T. Moran, the organization's president.

"It is our utmost responsibility to ensure that our veterans are treated with respect and dignity. We must do right by those who have served, and this bill is a significant step toward achieving that goal."

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