Doing Right by Our LGBTQ Servicemembers

When I was fighting in the infantry in Iraq, the race, religion, or sexual orientation of our fellow Marines didn’t matter–we were all united around a common mission to serve our country. But “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discriminated against some of the bravest Americans I’ve ever met, forcing them to choose between service and being open about who they are.

I was proud to support President Barack Obama when he repealed the discriminatory policy in 2010, allowing gay and lesbian servicemembers to serve openly and honestly in the armed forces of the United States for the first time.

But the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell did not include retroactive upgrades for the more than 100,000 gay servicemembers who had been less-than-honorably discharged since World War II because of who they are. That’s wrong, and it has real consequences:

● Anything other than an honorable discharge makes a veteran ineligible for GI Bill benefits and can negatively affect a veteran’s ability to receive health benefits and service-connected disability claims.
● An other-than-honorable discharge can negatively affect a veteran’s employment prospects.
● Veterans who receive something other than an honorable discharge are five to seven times more likely to fall into homelessness.

Since the repeal of DADT, servicemembers have been able to appeal their discharge status–but the burden of initiating that review rests with the veteran. That burden should be on the government.

As President, I’m going to fix this injustice for good. The military record correction and discharge review boards will examine the discharge status of everyone to determine who was separated for sexual orientation or “homosexual activity.” Unless the military can produce records to justify the discharge on other grounds, each veteran’s status will be automatically upgraded to honorable–restoring the benefits that they earned and so rightly deserve.

The review boards will then ensure upgraded veterans understand their new benefits, and in the case of deceased veterans, the military records of individual servicemembers will be updated to reflect the change to honorable discharge.

For too long, our country has discriminated against LGBTQ veterans who put their lives on the line for our freedom. It’s time to fix this injustice for good, and that’s exactly what I will do as President.