Still Silenced

A Decade Later, Military Veterans Still Have to Fight Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

It’s been over a decade since the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and LGBTQ+ veterans are still dealing with the consequences stemming from dishonorable discharges. A new lawsuit lodged against the Department of Defense is seeking to change that.

“Our government and leaders have long acknowledged that the military’s discrimination against LGBTQ+ service members — and what was done to me — was wrong,” one plaintiff, veteran Steven Egland, said in a statement, per NBC News. “The time has come to rectify it by correcting our records. All of those who served deserve to have documents that reflect the honor in our service.”

DADT was introduced by the Clinton administration in 1993 as a way of permitting gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel to serve in the military as long as they remained closeted. Those who were outed received dishonorable discharges, cutting them off from veteran’s benefits programs like tuition aid, healthcare, and loan assistance.

Although the policy came to an end in 2011 with the full inclusion of LGB service members (inclusion for trans people came in 2016), over 13,000 veterans received a dishonorable discharge, according to the Williams Institute. Even as the government has repealed its own discriminatory policy, it has yet to make reparations to the service members affected.

The class action lawsuit filed on Tuesday with the US District Court of Northern California is now taking on the legacy of anti-gay discrimination in the military. Plaintiffs are seeking to have their discharge status change and records relating to their sexual orientation expunged.

“The currently available discharge upgrade process is burdensome, opaque, expensive, and, for many veterans, virtually inaccessible,” the lawyers representing the plaintiffs said in a statement. “The process not only takes months or years, but also requires veterans to prove that an error or injustice warrants updating their discharge papers to the very entity that caused the error or injustice, despite the Government’s own acknowledgment that DADT was discriminatory.”

In addition to making veteran’s benefits inaccessible, dishonorable discharge comes with an emotional impact—it’s in the name. Egland explained, “Because of the circumstances and language of my discharge, which served as a painful reminder of the trauma I experienced, I was never able to proudly say that I served my country.”

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