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Focus: enacting law to upgrade discharges for gay, lesbian troops

According to military officials, approximately 114,000 former members of the Armed Forces have a special stigma attached to their service records, namely, a discharge that denotes separation from the military due to sexual orientation.

Many of them have paid a heavy price for that. Over a long span of time, from World War II to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal announced in the autumn of 2011, servicemembers discharged on account of their sexual preferences have faced myriad challenges.

Those run a broad gamut, from being discriminated against in job and housing searches to being treated as felons convicted on criminal charges. As a recent media article on discharged gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans notes, many of those tossed from the service were subsequently barred from voting and collecting disability and veterans’ benefits.

Many people want that to change, including a number of national legislators. A bill introduced last year in the House of Representatives that focused on discharge upgrades was recently reintroduced in the Senate as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act. The next step for the legislation is its review by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The House bill has stalled, although one of its sponsors, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-WI, says that it has broad support within that body.

Both the House and Senate bills call for discharge upgrades for all members that were forced to leave the military owing to their sexual orientation, provided that they served honorably. A “timely, consistent and transparent” review would be performed in every case. A central goal of the legislation is to open the door to benefits that have been long denied.

“This needs to be corrected now,” says Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, introduced the new Senate bill.

Source: Stars and Stripes, "Senate bill would provide clean service records for discharged gay, lesbian troops," Matthew M. Burke, Feb. 12, 2014

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