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VA: Veterans who were discharged for sexual orientation, gender identity still eligible for benefits

LGBTQ soldiers
Posted at 11:28 AM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 14:33:17-04

On Monday, the Department of Veteran's Affairs clarified that veterans who had been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status are still eligible for full benefits.

The department made the announcement on the 10th anniversary of the day in which the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act took effect.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a military rule that went on the books in 1994, but had unofficially been in effect dating back to World War II. The policy allowed LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military but prevented them from doing so openly. Those who chose to come out could be removed from the military with a less-than-honorable discharge.

The Center for American Progress estimates that between 1994 and 2011, an estimated 14,000 gay and lesbian service members were discharged from the military.

Monday's clarification was made in a statement by Kayla Williams, the assistant secretary for public affairs in the VA's Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. In her statement, Williams said that any former military member who faced a less-than-honorable discharge because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status is still considered a "veteran" and eligible for full benefits.

"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," Williams wrote.

In her statement, Williams noted that the new guidance is not a change in the law, but rather the guidance changes what constitutes eligibility under the law.

According to the statement, Williams says the new guidance will grant LGBTQ+ veterans benefits like "VR&E, home loan guaranty, compensation & pension, health care, homeless program and/or burial benefits."

"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," Williams wrote.