Veterans discharged for their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy are now eligible for all Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. The VA announced the veterans’ new eligibility during a virtual White House event on Monday marking the 10th anniversary of the bill’s repeal.
“More than 100,000 service members have been discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” President Joe Biden said in a written statement about the anniversary event. He said at least 14,000 of those service members were discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
“Many of these veterans received what is 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,” Biden said.
Ten years after the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I’m reflecting on the courage of LGBTQ+ servicemembers who answered the call, both before and since it became possible to serve openly—as well as those who fought to ensure all could wear the uniform as their whole, full selves.
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) September 20, 2021
“Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to reverse the harm done to all LGBTQ+ veterans,” wrote Kayla Williams, the VA’s assistant secretary of the office of public and intergovernmental affairs, in a blog post. Williams said the old policy’s repeal allowed service members “the freedom to serve without having to hide an essential part of themselves.”
“It also recognized what so many of us already knew to be true: That one’s ability to serve in the military should be measured by character, skills and abilities, not who one loves,” she wrote.
Biden’s administration has been vocal about its support of LGBTQ+ service members. Five days after his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order repealing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members in the military.
VA benefits that the discharged service members are now eligible to apply for VA-backed home loans, VA health benefits, disability payments, education benefits like the GI Bill and the right of all veterans to be buried in a national cemetery.
Soon, VA medical health coverage may also include gender confirmation surgery. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced at a pride event in June that he was working to make the surgery available to transgender veterans.
“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 said.
“LGBTQ+ veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services,” she said.