Senators Urge Panetta To Help DADT Discharged Veterans

 

Senate lawmakers have written to the Secretary of Defense to ask that he streamline the process of removing DADT discharges from gay veterans’ records.

The Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Mark Udall (D-CO), sent a letter to Leon Panetta this week asking that he expedite the formal process of having DADT discharges removed from veterans’ papers so that such discharges do not continue to hamper former soldiers’ employment prospects.

Says the letter:

The current process is protracted and overly burdensome for veterans who–according to Dr. Stanley’s guidance–should be entitled to have their discharge documents corrected. Our understanding is that many veterans who meet the criteria outlined above must first gather their service-related paperwork, which many veterans do not possess. The veteran must then file an application with the supporting documentation to overcome the presumption of the DRB that the discharge was proper. To accomplish this, the veteran must argue that the discharge should be changed according to the standards of “propriety” or “equity,” per DRB regulations. Only after overcoming this presumption will the DRB change the discharge paperwork.

[...]

We understand that changing discharge paperwork is not a small matter and that in most cases, a careful case-by-case evaluation is warranted. But as long as a former service member’s Narrative Reason for a discharge is “Homosexual Conduct,” “Homosexual Act” or “Homosexual Marriage,” that service member is compelled to be “out” to any future civilian employer and anyone else who sees the document. Likewise, the negative reentry code serves as a barrier to employment opportunities.

The letter goes on to stress that while the process of streamlining this procedural matter will be lengthy, it is important so that the military can fully leave behind the DADT rule that banned soldiers from open service.

The letter has been welcomed by LGBT rights groups.

Said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis in a statement:

“For many, making changes to discharge paperwork is a matter of dignity and restoring honor to their patriotic service in our armed forces. For others, it’s about qualifying for long overdue veteran’s benefits. But for others, a discharge from the military for sexual orientation can be a barrier to employment and requires veterans to ‘out’ themselves to future employers. It’s time to expedite this process to ensure that this discrimatory law doesn’t do further damage to our veterans and their families.”

A lawsuit is currently underway in which a veteran is challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act for denying her same-sex spouse the benefits an opposite-sex spouse would have received. The President is not defending the law but the Republican House leadership is. You can read more on that here.

Click over to the next page to read the letter in full.

The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
United States Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Secretary Panetta,

When the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) took effect on September 20, 2011, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley issued a memorandum providing guidance to the military services regarding applications from veterans separated on the basis of their sexual orientation seeking changes to their discharge paperwork. The memorandum made clear that Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) “should normally grant requests to change the narrative reason for a discharge…[and that] requests to re-characterize the discharge to honorable and/or requests to change reentry codes to an immediately-eligible-to-reenter category” should be granted when the original discharge was based solely on DADT and there “were no aggravating factors in the record, such as misconduct.” The guidance goes on to say that while “each request must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” having “an honorable or general discharge should normally…indicate the absence of aggravating factors.

While this guidance was an important step in the right direction, it is insufficient for the vast majority of veterans discharged under DADT. The current process is protracted and overly burdensome for veterans who–according to Dr. Stanley’s guidance–should be entitled to have their discharge documents corrected. Our understanding is that many veterans who meet the criteria outlined above must first gather their service-related paperwork, which many veterans do not possess. The veteran must then file an application with the supporting documentation to overcome the presumption of the DRB that the discharge was proper. To accomplish this, the veteran must argue that the discharge should be changed according to the standards of “propriety” or “equity,” per DRB regulations. Only after overcoming this presumption will the DRB change the discharge paperwork.

We understand that changing discharge paperwork is not a small matter and that in most cases, a careful case-by-case evaluation is warranted. But as long as a former service member’s Narrative Reason for a discharge is “Homosexual Conduct,” “Homosexual Act” or “Homosexual Marriage,” that service member is compelled to be “out” to any future civilian employer and anyone else who sees the document. Likewise, the negative reentry code serves as a barrier to employment opportunities.

Therefore, the process should be streamlined for those veterans discharged under DADT who have honorable or general discharges and only seek changes to their narrative reason for discharge and their reentry code. We thus respectfully request that the Department clarify that DRBs shall correct discharge paperwork upon receipt of a basic DD Form 293 application, provided that the DRB can then obtain the veteran’s DD Form 214 and service record. The Department should further clarify that, where there are no aggravating factors in the service member’s record, the presumption should be in favor of correction.

Veterans who were discharged under DADT should not be compelled to carry with them a narrative reason for separation that indicates their sexual orientation to anyone who sees their discharge document. In order to begin to put the regrettable policy of DADT fully behind us, the process of getting these documents corrected needs to be accessible and achievable for all. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

Related Reading:

Rep King, Keep Your Straightness Out of Our Faces

Six Months After DADT Repeal, Sky Still Not Falling

Oklahoma Legislator Wants to Nullify Gay Rights Ordinances

Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to the US Army Photostream.

9 comments

Anita Wischhusen
Anita Wisch4 years ago

I hope he re-evaluates the decision, and does what is right.

Kenneth D.
Kenneth Davies4 years ago

noted

Kenneth D.
Kenneth Davies4 years ago

noted

Nicholas R.
Nicholas R.4 years ago

This is the very least the military could do after viciously destroying the careers of courageous men and women who risked their lives defending the country. These soldiers have a right to reinstatement with promotions and other compensatory benefits, and if the military wants to drag its heels on this, they will be sued and ordered by a court to pay those damages. It's precisely for these reasons that the 9th circuit was so wrong to vacate the lower court's ruling that DADT is unconstitutional; veterans are still suffering the injustice of this law, whether it remains on the books or not. This is pretty solid proof that the case was not "moot."

Sarah Mumford
S M.4 years ago

To reverse the shame on the government for having such noted on a person's record ACT IMMEDIATELY.

Charles Yheaulon
Charles Yheaulon4 years ago

Panetta should have allready done it.

Jason S.
Jason S.4 years ago

thanks

John B.
John B.4 years ago

I hope Panetta get on the ball and starts the process soon. Thanks for the article Steve.