Today marks the tenth anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy put into place on Feb. 28, 1994, to prevent lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) service members from serving in the military openly. Although the policy was considered a “compromise” from the previous Department of Defense policy dating back to World War II that empowered the military to pursue – or “ask” – service members suspected of engaging in homosexual acts, DADT nevertheless led to the discharge of an estimated 14,000 service members during the almost 18 years it was in place. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to reverse the harm done to all LGBTQ+ Veterans.

The repeal of DADT gave LGB service members the freedom to serve without having to hide an essential part of themselves. It also recognized what so many of us already knew to be true: That one’s ability to serve in the military should be measured by character, skills and abilities, not who one loves.

For LGB service members, repeal of DADT meant freedom from having to go through the inhumanity of having to lie about the basic aspects of their lives in order to serve in uniform. For many, the repeal also meant freedom from abuse and harassment from leaders and colleagues who disregarded the policy’s explicit bar on pursuing and targeting suspected service members. In truth, there was never an effective mechanism under DADT that truly protected service members from harassment, and repeal was the only way that service members were able to seek recourse against harassment.

As a bisexual Veteran, I chose to present as straight during the push to repeal DADT. It made sense at the time that there was a more pressing need for me as a woman married to a man to say, “No one in my unit cared if anyone was gay while we were in Iraq.” I could talk credibly about how the lack of sufficient Arabic linguists harmed our effectiveness downrange, and my own identity seemed irrelevant. It took many years for me to shed the toxic legacy of having served under DADT and come back out of the closet; I’m proud to recognize this anniversary as my authentic self.

At VA, we continuously work not only to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ Veterans, but also to address ongoing issues that LGBTQ+ Veterans face as a result of the military’s decades-long official policy of homophobia and transphobia. Earlier this year, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough made it a priority to ensure that LGBTQ+ Veterans have the same level of access to VA care and services as all other Veterans have. Actions he has taken include establishing a task force to examine how VA policies hinder or prohibit access to care and services and working to remove barriers that transgender Veterans face in accessing gender-affirming care.

Today, we are also taking steps to clarify VA policy for Veterans who were given other than honorable discharges based on homosexual conduct, gender identity or HIV status. Under this newly-issued guidance, VA adjudicators shall find that all discharged service members whose separation was due to sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status are considered “Veterans” who may be eligible for VA benefits, like VR&E, home loan guaranty, compensation & pension, health care, homeless program and/or burial benefits, so long as the record does not implicate a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits.

This policy statement does not represent a change in law, as Veterans who were discharged under DADT alone have been generally eligible for benefits under current statute and regulation. However, this policy reiterates what constitutes eligibility for benefits under law. In addition, every Character of Discharge case that is initially considered for denial will also get a second look before that action is taken. Given that large numbers of LGBTQ+ Veterans who were affected by previous homophobic and transphobic policies have not applied for a discharge upgrade due to the perception that the process could be onerous, we are hopeful that this policy statement encourages more of them to contact VA to determine their eligibility for care and services.

Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created. LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services.

A note to America’s Veterans, their families, survivors on the situation in Afghanistan from VA Secretary Denis McDonough.VA Secretary Denis McDonough’s statement on Afghanistan to Veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers
A note to America’s Veterans, their families, survivors on the situation in Afghanistan from VA Secretary Denis McDonough.Serving America’s Veterans: Fiscal Year 2021 in Review

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27 Comments

  1. S B September 26, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    As fashionable as it is to demonize DADT, calling it a “compromise” feeds into the ignorance of the problem that extends well into history. DADT was progress (regardless of one’s view), a step in the right direction, just not the destination. At no time before February 28, 1994 were said service members ever able to serve openly. What it changed were the gov’t’s responses to homosexuality: they no longer asked and prison was no longer a likely consequence. However, the hunts and discharges still continued; society doesn’t change overnight, and ending DADT didn’t eradicate homo- and transphobia.

    But it’s good to see the gov’t working to repair the damage done

  2. MIKE EVERSTON September 25, 2021 at 10:06 pm

    IS THERE A GROUP OF GAY MEN THAT MEET ON A REGULAR BASIS TO DISCUSS THEIR PROBLEMS OR JUST TO BE MEETING A A GROUP TO BE SUPPORTIVE OF EACH OTHER.

  3. Robert Alexander September 23, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    Hi, generally good news, but please consider:

    1) Where approx. 14,000 LGBTQ service members were discharged under DADT, over 114,000 LGBTQ were discharged since WWII, many of whom suffered terribly under the pre-DADT policies that criminalized being LGBT. You should ensure that those pre-DADT vet know for sure that hey are included.

    2). You should not be making the LGB vs. LGBT distinction here. I just finished a 3-year legal fellowship advocating for LGBTQ vets with the VA nd discharge boards and a rather large percentage of my clients affected by DADT and prior policies were in fact transgender. Before the concept of transgender was commonly known, the military branches identified heterosexual, transgender service members as being gay. I think you all should rid your lexicon of LGB in this context and openly acknowledge that transgender service members were discriminated against along with LGB service members long before they got to experience miitary discrimination on their very own.

    3) Where this policy VA change is welcome and lets LGBTQ vet know that they are in fact welcomed by the VA like other service members, the policy itself does not change very much for a substantial percentage of LGBTQ Vets. Because LGBTQ service members experienced significantly higher rates of inappropriate discipline, harassment, assault, rape, and stigma of less-than-honorable discharges than their non-LGBTQ peers, they suffer from significantly higher rates of mental health issues (to include PTSD from Military sexual trauma), substance abuse, homelessness, and suicide than other veterans. Because of this trauma, many have misconduct included in their discharges that would make them in eligible for this policy. This misconduct was often the result of their trauma (going AWOL to avoid assault, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health effects) and/or had trumped up charges added to their discharges as part of the over all discrimination.

    There is a great webinar hosted by the American Bar Association that gives step-by-step directions for such vets to apply for discharge upgrades and to prepare to defend their records before the VA Character of Discharge process:

    https://www.americanbar.org/groups/diversity/sexual_orientation/resources/Veterans/dd214-corrections-lgbt-veterans/

    BTW, I produced the webinar and volunteered to help in the Biden Admin with all this, I’m still available. ;-)

  4. ES September 23, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    Does this apply to those who were discharged before DADT?

  5. Susan Smith September 23, 2021 at 9:12 am

    And yet no one wants to talk about being harassed by lesbians in the military. Always one sided. We couldn’t lock our doors in the barracks and they would walk right in and harass me. I ended up getting permission to live off base, at my own expense of course and nothing was ever done, no disciplinary action, nothing. But hey, as long as they do their job, right?

    • ES September 23, 2021 at 2:47 pm

      Who says we don’t want to talk about it? Sexual harassment is sexual harassment. The sexual orientation of the offender is irrelevant. It’s was still illegal, and should be dealt with accordingly. But it has nothing to do with this issue.

      Just because it’s “gay”, doesn’t mean it’s related.

  6. Aaron Tollman September 22, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    This is a step in the right direction, but what about the trauma caused by having to hide our lives from our brother and sisters in arms? What about those of us that left the service we loved early because we wanted to live an authentic life? I hope these things will be addressed. I hope that these things can be made right at least in some nuanced way.

  7. J D Zeff September 22, 2021 at 8:02 pm

    I was in the Navy in the early ’70s, and saw the way gays were discriminated against, although being straight, I never had to worry personally about the witch hunts. To me, DADT was a big step forward, because gays and lesbians could serve without fear as long as they were discrete. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than it had been in my day and probably the best you could get as long as so many of the senior enlisted and officers were still bigoted about sexual orientation. Later, once they’d all left the service, the policy wasn’t needed any longer but it did serve a purpose back them.

  8. Nick September 22, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    Don’t ask, don’t tell worked for me! I find it amusing that administrative authorities like the veterans administration makes out to be some kind of stalwart steadfast supporter of gay rights when in fact it’s just toeing the party line as it is for now until it again changes some years down the line. The military is not a social liberal experiment, the military is the military.

  9. No Name September 22, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    Should men be allowed to join the WAC’s and live in their barracks???? There should be separation of facilities, etc. Shouldn’t new recrutes be separated from Homo sexural superior Sargents and other people who have life- and -death authority over them??

    • ES September 23, 2021 at 2:52 pm

      Just why did this post pass moderation?

    • SB September 26, 2021 at 7:04 pm

      This person, strong in opinion yet too weak to own it, is a clear example of the hatred built into society and handed down through christian values of hatred and why it took so long for the military to catch up with social changes, and, well, just acknowledge the humanity of the people hurt by the hate built into the policy.

      Ironically, the deservedly maligned DADT was actual progress, just not enough. Fortunately it didn’t last well over half a century, like preceding policy. I was on active duty when that policy was implemented. Prior to that, prison was a strong possibility. Two men were caught the year prior to DADT, they were given a general discharge with the condition, “Don’t do it again under our roof.” While awaiting discharge, one was caught again, Court Marshalled, and sent to prison. They were also grilled to find out the full extent of the gay community on base. Prison and grilling were at least taken off the table with DADT. However, it didn’t stop the hunt, nor the hatred and vitriol of Mr. “No Name.” (Too bad he isn’t also Mr. “No Words,” ’cause his have no value. The world will be a better place without him.)

      But Mr. Disgrace to the Uniform No Name bigot shows that hatred and ignorance reigns within the veteran community. His ignorance of rape culture is extremely apparent. Will male victims be blamed for what they wear? Will they be blamed for being drunk and passing out? Will they be afforded more protection than women? His inability to comprehend sexuality is apparent. His lack of humanity is blatant. People like this didn’t serve, they sullied the military.

      • Albertas Mikutes September 27, 2021 at 12:43 pm

        Good response

  10. Mark Bivings September 22, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    I served back in ‘82 & ‘83.
    During that time there were active investigations of anyone supposedly gay or rumored to be gay. I watched many friends disappear only to later learn of their court martial and imprisonment or their removal from the service.
    I was terrified to say the least of being found out and sought out legal advice.
    Needless to say, I came out to my commanding officer and from their the torture began. I was physically attacked, raped, and locked up until my Honorable discharge for homosexuality.
    I would later find out that I was part of the Camp LeJune cancer cluster and nearly died from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
    I have been denied all benefits due to my short term service.
    When I was asked by both my parents and my CO to lie about my orientation until completing my service, I went back to one of the things all had told me. Don’t lie. Tell the truth or don’t speak. I was backed into a corner which only had one escape hatch for survival. Any one of my friends could have outed me if they broke under interrogation and as I found out, that interrogation was brutal. That I don’t hold more contempt for the services is a miracle as I don’t blame the majority. I held true to my honor as did many others.

  11. Matt McCary September 22, 2021 at 12:30 pm

    I was discharged in 2000 under DADT, just 1 year and 6 months into my first enlistment. The characteristic of my discharge was Honorable; however, the reason was due to “Homosexual Admission”. I petitioned to have that removed from my DD-214 and it was subsequently changed to “Secretarial Authority”

    When I enlisted, I paid $1500 into the Montgomery GI Bill for education benefits. I also enlisted into the Air Force intelligence specialty where I was awarded a $10,000 enlistment bonus. However, when I was discharged I was forced to re-pay my enlistment bonus which put me into terrible financial shape and I was denied ALL benefits because I did not fulfill the minimum amount of service time. I paid into the GI Bill and got NOTHING back…no refund…no benefits. The government stole that from me, in addition to my career and my dignity.

    How are these new rules at the VA going to apply to someone like me?

  12. William Hoey September 21, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Does anyone know if this applies to Veterans who served during DADT only or all gay Veterans, discharged during their time in the Military? ?

    • Pablo Hernandez September 21, 2021 at 4:26 pm

      I believe it applies to all LGBTQIA+ Veterans that were discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity!

      • ES September 24, 2021 at 1:03 am

        I’ve been looking for confirmation of this. Do you have any sources? Fingers crossed…

  13. Dee Jackson September 21, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    I don’t understand how why anyone should be exempt from the length of service. Regardless of sexual orientation. Help me understand.

    • Pablo Hernandez September 21, 2021 at 4:24 pm

      Sure! The reason they should be exempt from length of service requirements is not because of their sexual orientation. It is because they were involuntarily discharged due to a discriminatory policy before getting the chance to reach the length of service required. Many other Veterans that were involuntarily discharged for reasons such as convenience of the the government, reduction in force, etc are arleady granted an exception to the length of service requirements, because it is understood that it was not their fault that they did not reach the required length of service. This situation is no different, except that only was it not the Veterans fault, it was in fact a discriminatory policy that caused them to not reach the required length of service.

      • Mike Grunst September 23, 2021 at 10:53 am

        Very well said!

  14. Pablo Hernandez September 21, 2021 at 11:11 am

    This is fantastic! Thank you for this important step. However there are still many Veterans that were discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity that do not have access to VA benefits due to being involuntarily discharged prior to having served long enough to meet the length of service requirements for these benefits. So for example, a Veteran discharged involuntarily under DADT after 23 months of service, still does not qualify for VA healthcare because there is a general 24 months of service requirement for VA healthcare. So in these cases, not only is/was the Veteran left to deal with the trauma of this discriminatory policies as you so well describe it…but they are left to do so without the benefit of VA healthcare eligibility, including for mental health. The same is true for VA education benefits and it’s length of service requirements, as well as many of the other VA benefits you speak of in this blog.

    It would only be fair to allow Veterans involuntarily discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity, to be able to access these VA benefits regardless of their length of service, as it was these discriminatory policies that prevented them from meeting that requirement, not their own doing. These kinds of exceptions in terms of length of service requirements already exist for discharges due to “convenience of the government”, “reduction in force”, “condition interfered with duty”, “hardship”, etc. Would it be possible to administratively give Veterans involuntarily discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity regardless of length of service this same right to VA benefits? Whether it be by including them in one of the categories for which these exceptions already exist such as “convenience of the government” or “condition interfered with duty” etc, or by creating a new category specifically for these Veterans?

    • Desiree D. September 21, 2021 at 8:45 pm

      Do you know for a fact that the new policy still maintains the 24 month service minimum?

  15. Pablo Hernandez September 21, 2021 at 9:57 am

    Thank you! This is a fantastic step. However it is important to note that there are many LGBTQIA+ veterans who are still NOT eligible for VA benefits due to having been involuntarily discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity prior to having met the length of service necessary required to access these benefits. For example, Veterans discharged due to DADT prior to reaching two years of service are still not eligible for VA healthcare. So not only have they had to deal with the trauma of these discriminatory policies as you so well explained, but then after the fact, they have not had and still do not have access to even VA mental healthcare to help deal with this trauma. The same is true with educational benefits and the length of service requirements for these Veterans.

    I think it is only fair that there should be an exception made for Veterans discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity in terms of the length of service required to access these VA benefits. These kinds of exceptions already exist for Veterans discharged due to ‘convenience of the government’, ‘reduction in force’, ‘condition interfered with duty’ ,’hardship’, among others.

    Is it possible to create a similar exception administratively in time of service requirements for Veterans involuntarily discharged due to sexual orientation or gender identity? Whether it be through including them in one of the categories of Veterans already exempted, such as those discharged for ‘convenience of the government’ or ‘reduction in force’ or ‘condition interfered with duty’ etc, or by creating a new category they would fall under?

    I am a part of a small non-profit For All Vets that works on trying to help get these Veterans their benefits, and would love to talk to you about this if possible!

  16. Christina Danielle Thundathil September 20, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    You are discriminating against victims of sexual assault and rape by doing this.

    • CJ Dragen September 21, 2021 at 3:13 pm

      Christina, can you please help me understand how?

    • Susan Smith September 23, 2021 at 9:14 am

      I agree with you. The premise is as long as they do their job nothing else matters. It will never change, only get worse.

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