Full Veterans Affairs benefits are now available to thousands of LGBT veterans who were issued other-than-honorable discharges when they were forced to leave the military due to their sexual orientations.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement on Monday announcing the changes and commemorating the 10th anniversary of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a controversial law that forced tens of thousands of service members who admitted their sexual orientation out of the United States military.
Lloyd wrote that the military must “strive for greater inclusivity” to “help strengthen our nation’s defenses.”
“By insisting on standards of merit and allowing to serve in uniform all those who are qualified, we avail ourselves of more talent, better leaders and innovative solutions to the security challenges we face around the world,” Austin wrote.
“We are also reminded today that we have more work to do, particularly as it relates to righting old wrongs. No veteran should bear a less than honorable discharge based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Austin continued. “So, for those who believe they were unjustly discharged or retain an error in a service record, please contact your military department’s Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records or Discharge Review Board.”
According to sources familiar with the announcement, VA officials will launch reviews of cases involving LGBT veterans, which could impact as many as 100,000 service members who were forcibly removed from the military due to their sexual orientation over the last 70 years, Military Times reported.
Troops who received dishonorable discharges or who have criminal history in their service records will still not qualify for full benefits.
On Monday, President Joe Biden – who was vice president when then-President Barack Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011 – released a statement recognizing the anniversary.
“Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all. It was the right thing to do,” Biden said in a statement.
“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden’s statement continued. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”