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SLDN Hotline Receives 12,000th Call for Assistance

For immediate release:
Monday, October 15, 2012

Contact: Zeke Stokes at
202-621-5406 or zeke@sldn.org

SLDN Legal Hotline Logs 12,000th Call for Assistance
Calls for legal help are up - not down - since ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, says McKean

SLDN's Ashley Scheideberg fields a call from an LGBT service member seeking assistance.

(WASHINGTON DC) Today, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) free and confidential hotline for LGBT service members and veterans seeking legal assistance reached a new milestone - 12,000 calls since its inception in 1993 to help aid service members affected by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law. Since repeal of the law in September 2011, SLDN leaders say calls to the hotline have increased with service members and veterans seeking a range of help that includes discharge upgrade assistance; advice about serving openly; assisting veterans discharged under DADT who wish to serve again; counseling service members and veterans on issues related to transgender service; and helping gay and lesbian military families navigate the unequal system of support and benefits created by the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) and other federal marriage discrimination laws.

“SLDN’s legal hotline has been at the core of our services for nearly two decades. It has been and continues to be a lifeline for tens of thousands of LGBT service members and veterans in their time of crisis or when they simply need advice or counsel on an issue that’s unique to them as newly out members of the military community. Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ calls to SLDN’s legal hotline have increased,” said SLDN Legal Director David McKean.

Serena Trueman knows the work of the SLDN legal hotline well. She joined the US Air Force in 2005, at the age of 19. The product of a military family, Trueman had always felt a strong desire to serve her country and was considered by her commander to be in the top 10 percent of her squadron.

During her time in the service, Trueman’s father was diagnosed with cancer and Serena was unable to be with him because of where she was stationed. To lend her support during this difficult time, Trueman’s girlfriend came to visit her on base. Although there was nothing about this visit that contravened any military rules, it raised suspicions in the mind of another service member, who reported her to the command.

Ordinarily under DADT, a service member would have been separated with a discharge characterization that reflected the quality of his or her service, and a narrative reason that indicated the specific reason for discharge, such as “Homosexual Conduct.” Both of these items, as well as a reentry code, are listed on a discharge form, which serves as proof of a veteran’s military service.

Because of her excellent service record, Trueman received an Honorable discharge. However, when she received her discharge paperwork, she had been given a narrative reason for separation of “personality disorder,” which incorrectly marked her as someone with a mental disorder. In addition to forcing her to inaccurately represent herself in situations where she would be required submit her discharge paperwork - employment applications and requests for veterans’ benefits, included - this narrative reason and its corresponding reentry code also impeded her ability to re-enlist following the repeal of DADT in September 2011.

With SLDN’s legal expertise and assistance, in September 2012, Trueman received a decision in her favor and a new discharge record that reflects accurately her service. She is now having conversations with a recruiter in hopes of rejoining the Air Force.

“Serena Trueman is just one example of the more than 90,000 LGBT veterans discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the prior ban on gay and lesbian service, who may qualify to have their discharge paperwork corrected. At SLDN, we stand ready to assist through our free, direct, and confidential legal services and encourage veterans to reach out to us for assistance,” said McKean.

Since the repeal of DADT, SLDN has assisted more than 200 veterans seeking to upgrade their discharge paperwork. Those seeking assistance may visit http://www.sldn.org/vetdischargechanges to find out more and begin the process.

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ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. Since 1993, our in-house legal team has responded to more than 12,000 requests for assistance. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100 or visit www.sldn.org.

PHOTO: SLDN's Ashley Scheideberg fields a call to the 24-hour hotline from an LGBT service member seeking assistance.  

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