New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats Seek to Restore Honor to Service Members Discharged Due to Sexual Orientation

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham have cosponsored the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, S. 1766 in the Senate and H.R. 3068 in the House. The legislation will help service members discharged due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the benefits they earned.

“I was proud to vote to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, which forced otherwise qualified service members to hide who they were or face discharge from the military. Those who were pushed out were willing to sacrifice everything to defend our nation. Instead, they were unfairly denied dignity, recognition and veterans’ benefits,” Udall said. “It’s time to right this wrong and restore their records to reflect their honorable service and ensure they can get the benefits they earned.”

“Doing away with the discriminatory military policy of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ brought us closer to achieving full equality for all Americans. Yet thousands of our heroic gay and lesbian former service members still haven’t received the recognition and benefits they’ve earned,” Heinrich said. “Every service member in New Mexico and across the country has helped protect and enhance our national security. It’s time we do right by them by ensuring their military records reflect that honor.”

“Thousands of men and women have put their lives on the line to bravely defend our nation, yet for no other reason than their sexual orientation they faced a discharge that fails to reflect their honorable service,” Luján said. “We have made great strides to promote equality within our military and it is time to take the next step by ensuring gay and lesbian service members receive the recognition and benefits they have earned.”

“We must do more than acknowledge past discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers who served in the military,” Lujan Grisham said. “That discrimination resulted in long-lasting consequences beyond being discharged from the military. We have an obligation to correct individual military records to reflect honorable service, and ensure veterans’ services are available to every person who suffered from discrimination.”

Since World War II, more than 100,000 Americans are estimated to have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. Those forced out of the military may have left with discharge statuses of “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable,” depending on the circumstances. As a consequence, many of these service members may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and may not be able to claim veteran status. The consequences of a negative discharge also include preventing some veterans from voting or making it more difficult for them to acquire civilian employment.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act would make permanent law the current Department of Defense (DoD) policy allowing service members who were discharged for no other reason than their sexual orientation to correct their records to reflect their honorable service. The bill would also simplify the paperwork requirement necessary for service members to initiate a review. In particular, it makes clear that the lack of documentation cannot be used as the basis for denying a review and it would remove the burden of proof from the service member and place it on DoD to find and produce relevant documentation. Finally, the bill would require each of the military service historians to review the facts and circumstances of the estimated 100,000 service members discharged for their sexual orientation prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. ” Doing so would improve the historical record that the department and military services use to help service members prove that they were discharged solely for their sexual orientation and reflect their honorable service.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets.org, OutServe-SLDN, the Human Rights Campaign, American Veterans for Equal Rights, Lambda Legal, Swords to Plowshares, the American Bar Association, Unitarian Universalist Association, and the American Humanist Association.