SLDN Praises U.S. Senate Leaders for Action on Behalf of LGBT Veterans
For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Contact: Zeke Stokes
at 202.621.5406 or email@example.com
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) today praised U.S.Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (I-CT),and Mark Udall (D-CO) for their letter sent today to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and joined their call for the Secretary to use his authority to streamline the process for those discharged under the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) law in order to expedite discharge paperwork changes and upgrades.
"For many, making changes to discharge paperwork is a matter of dignity and restoring honor to their patriotic service in our armed forces. For others, it's about qualifying for long overdue veteran's benefits. But for others, a discharge from the military for sexual orientation can be a barrier to employment and requires veterans to 'out' themselves to future employers. It's time to expedite this process to ensure that this discrimatory law doesn't do further damage to our veterans and their families," said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
Since the repeal of DADT in September 2011, the Department of Defense has issued guidance regarding how to handle applications by veterans separated on the basis of their sexual orientation who want to have their discharge paperwork changed. The guidance expands who is eligible to apply to have their documents reviewed and provides specifics on how these documents may be changed. However, for a variety of reasons, each of these must be handled one by one.
Today's letter by these Senators seeks a streamlined process for those veterans discharged under DADT who have honorable or generaldischarges and only seek changes to their narrative reason for discharge and their reentry code. It requests that the Department clarify that discharge review boards correct discharge paperwork upon receipt of a basic DD Form 293 application, provided that the board can then obtain the veteran’s paperwork, including the DD Form 214 and service record. It calls on the Department to further clarify that, where there are no aggravating factors found in the service member’s record, the presumption should be in favor of correction.
In January 2012, SLDN unveiled an online toolkit designed to help LGBT veterans who were discharged for sexual orientation and wish to make changes or upgrades to their discharge paperwork. Since then, SLDN has helped more than 150 LGBT veterans seeking to make these changes. To view the toolkit or request assistance, click here.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below. To view and download a .PDF, click here.
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
United States Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta,
When the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) took effect on September 20, 2011, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Clifford Stanley issued a memorandum providing guidance to the military services regarding applications from veterans separated on the basis of their sexual orientation seeking changes to their discharge paperwork. The memorandum made clear that Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) “should normally grant requests to change the narrative reason for a discharge…[and that] requests to re-characterize the discharge to honorable and/or requests to change reentry codes to an immediately-eligible-to-reenter category” should be granted when the original discharge was based solely on DADT and there “were no aggravating factors in the record, such as misconduct.” The guidance goes on to say that while “each request must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” having “an honorable or general discharge should normally…indicate the absence of aggravating factors.
While this guidance was an important step in the right direction, it is insufficient for the vast majority of veterans discharged under DADT. The current process is protracted and overly burdensome for veterans who—according to Dr. Stanley’s guidance—should be entitled to have their discharge documents corrected. Our understanding is that many veterans who meet the criteria outlined above must first gather their service-related paperwork, which many veterans do not possess. The veteran must then file an application with the supporting documentation to overcome the presumption of the DRB that the discharge was proper. To accomplish this, the veteran must argue that the discharge should be changed according to the standards of “propriety” or “equity,” per DRB regulations. Only after overcoming this presumption will the DRB change the discharge paperwork.
We understand that changing discharge paperwork is not a small matter and that in most cases, a careful case-by-case evaluation is warranted. But as long as a former service member’s Narrative Reason for a discharge is “Homosexual Conduct,” “Homosexual Act” or “Homosexual Marriage,” that service member is compelled to be “out” to any future civilian employer and anyone else who sees the document. Likewise, the negative reentry code serves as a barrier to employment opportunities.
Therefore, the process should be streamlined for those veterans discharged under DADT who have honorable or general discharges and only seek changes to their narrative reason for discharge and their reentry code. We thus respectfully request that the Department clarify that DRBs shall correct discharge paperwork upon receipt of a basic DD Form 293 application, provided that the DRB can then obtain the veteran’s DD Form 214 and service record. The Department should further clarify that, where there are no aggravating factors in the service member’s record, the presumption should be in favor of correction.
Veterans who were discharged under DADT should not be compelled to carry with them a narrative reason for separation that indicates their sexual orientation to anyone who sees their discharge document. In order to begin to put the regrettable policy of DADT fully behind us, the process of getting these documents corrected needs to be accessible and achievable for all. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
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 11,500 requests for assistance.
SLDN FREE HOTLINE: 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.