America’s LGBTQ veterans have big news to celebrate.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military policy that shamefully encouraged military personnel to hide their LGBTQ identity, the Veterans Affairs Department has issued a notice confirming all LGBTQ veterans discharged under the policy are now eligible for full VA benefits.
CNN’s Ellie Kaufman reported that on Monday, Sept. 20, the VA “issued guidance stating military service members who were discharged because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy are [now] eligible for all Veterans Affairs benefits.”
Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs Kayla Williams announced the new policy during a virtual White House event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the policy’s repeal.
Ten years ago today, we repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Today our military is stronger and our country is safer because patriotic Americans no longer have to live a lie in order to defend the country they love. pic.twitter.com/uXKSnsflMk
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 20, 2021
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough also spoke, issuing “guidance to veterans benefits administrator adjudicators that military service members who have an ‘other than honorable discharge due solely to their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status should be considered veterans who may be eligible for VA benefits.’”
The VA’s new policy allows veterans who were discharged as a result of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to receive the full range of veterans’ benefits, which includes “veteran readiness and employment benefits, home loan guaranty, compensation and pension benefits, health care, homeless programs and burial benefits.”
In a statement marking the occasion, President Joe Biden said, “more than 100,000 American service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — including more than 14,000 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Many of these veterans received what are known as ‘other than honorable’ discharges, excluding them and their families from the vitally important services and benefits they had sacrificed so much to earn.”
A grateful nation—@POTUS announced that tens of thousands of LGBT vets forced from the military for their sexual orientation and given other-than-honorable discharges under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, will now receive full VA benefits despite their dismissal status.@TheBlackCaucus @VP pic.twitter.com/tqKkUtWYjW
— John Mason (@JohnMasonMN) September 21, 2021
Biden said he believed the repeal of the early 90s policy “helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity and opportunity for all.”
In his own statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed that sentiment, saying, “no veteran should bear a less than honorable discharge based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
He then urged LGBTQ veterans and service members who felt that they had been unjustly discharged because of the policy to contact their military department’s Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records or Discharge Review Board.
“On behalf of the entire Department, I thank our LGBTQ+ service members — and your families —- for the service you render each and every day,” Austin said.
In addition to improving VA benefits for those forced out of their military careers due to their identity, the federal government has also taken major steps in recent months to support LGBTQ service members, including reversing the ban on transgender service members serving in the U.S. military and making gender-confirmation surgery for transgender veterans a standard part of VA health care coverage.
And the efforts don’t appear to be ending there.
“I’m confident that we as an agency will continue to find more ways to show through word and deed that VA serves all who served,” Williams said.