LGBTQ Veterans Discharged Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Can Receive Full Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued guidance to "reverse the harm done" to people forced out of the military due to their sexuality or gender identity.

LGBTQ military veterans who received other-than-honorable discharges for their sexuality, gender identity or HIV status are nonetheless eligible for government benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week.

More than 14,000 service members were forced out of the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which was established in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton. Each member who was forced out was given an other-than-honorable discharge and, as such, was unable to receive health care, guaranteed home loans or disability compensation, among other benefits.

Kayla Williams, assistant secretary for public affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that Monday’s announcement was a clarification of existing rules, rather than a legal change.

She described the guidance as part of the VA’s overall effort to “reverse the harm done to all LGBTQ+ Veterans.”

“Under this newly-issued guidance, VA adjudicators shall find that all discharged service members whose separation was due to sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status are considered ‘Veterans’ who may be eligible for VA benefits,” Williams wrote in a blog post. “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.”

The VA’s announcement took place exactly 10 years after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” under former President Barack Obama.

To mark the anniversary, President Joe Biden issued a statement calling the repeal “the right thing to do.”

“On this day and every day, I am thankful for all of the LGBTQ+ service members and veterans who strengthen our military and our nation,” Biden said in his statement. “We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, tweeted Monday: “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.”