The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy caused harm to veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs posted a VAntage Point blog titled “Tenth anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. It was written by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Kayla Williams. The blog was posted on September 20, 2021, the tenth anniversary of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy put into place on Feb. 28, 1994, to prevent lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) service members from serving in the military openly. Although the policy was considered a “compromise” from the previous Department of Defense policy dating back to World War II that empowered the military to pursue – or “ask” – service members suspected of engaging in homosexual acts, DADT nevertheless led to the discharge of an estimated 14,000 service members during the almost 18 years it was in place. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to reverse the harm done to all LGBTQ+ Veterans.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Discharged LGBTQ+ Veterans can now receive their benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clarified that VA policy for Veterans who were given other than honorable discharges based on homosexual conduct, gender identity or HIV status. According to the blog post:

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, like VR&E, home loan guaranty, compensation & pension, health care, homeless program and/or burial benefits so long as the record does not implicate a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department is also aware that “large numbers of LGBTQ+ Veterans who were affected by previous homophobic and transphobic policies have not applied for a discharge update due to the perception that the process could be onerous.” The Department wants to encourage them to contact VA to determine their eligibility for care and services.

What did DADT do?

According to History.com, it replaced a policy that did not officially exclude LGBT service members, but did consider “homosexual acts” as grounds for discharge. That part of the policy went back as far as the Revolutionary War. After World War II, the U.S. military made the act of sodomy a crime subject to punishment by a court-martial.

President Clinton announced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on July 19, 1993. The policy permitted gay Americans to serve in the military as long as they remained closeted. The policy, was enshrined in a federal statute passed by Congress the same year, and went into effect in February 1994.

Under DADT, military personnel were not allowed to discriminate against or harass closeted service members they believed to be gay. On the other hand, homosexual or bisexual members could not disclose their sexual orientation or refer to same-sex relationships. If they violated this policy, or otherwise were found to have engaged in “homosexual conduct,” they would be subject to discharge.

History.com

President Clinton admitted that the policy was “not a perfect solution”, but presented it as a “major step forward”. History.com pointed out the following: The statute itself concluded that homosexuality, if openly acknowledged, “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability”.

What happened after DADT was repealed?

The archive of President Barack Obama has some information about DADT. President Obama repealed it on December 22, 2010. Here is a small portion of his remarks at the time:

…So this morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”… It is a law, — this law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.

No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military — regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance — because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love…

…For we are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one… We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal… Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.

President Obama archives website

The post from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs included a paragraph that describes how the repeal of DADT affected LGB service members:

For LGB service members, repeal of DADT meant freedom from having to go through the inhumanity of having to lie about the basic aspects of their lives in order to serve in uniform. For many, the repeal also meant freedom from abuse and harassment from leaders and colleagues who disregarded the policy’s explicit bar on pursuing and targeting suspected service members. In truth, there was never an effective mechanism under DADT that truly protected service members from harassment, and repeal was the only way that service members were able to seek recourse against harassment.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

It should be noted that the woman who wrote the post on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Kayla Williams, stated in the post that she is a bisexual Veteran.

…As a bisexual Veteran, I chose to present as straight during the push to repeal DADT. It made sense at the time that there was a more pressing need for me as a woman married to a man to say, “No one in my unit cared if anyone was gay while we were in Iraq.” I could talk credibly about how the lack of sufficient Arabic linguistics harmed our effectiveness downrange, and my own identity seemed irrelevant. It took many years for me to shed the toxic legacy of having served under DADT and come back out of the closet; I’m proud to recognize this anniversary as my authentic self…

Kayla Williams

I am not a veteran, but I am part of the LGBTQ+ community. (I’m nonbinary). It troubles me that people who were in the military had to hide who they were – for fear of being discharged. Part of what later became the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy goes back to the Revolutionary War. That’s an incredibly long time for the U.S. military to act as though being LGBTQ+ was unacceptable!

It is good that the U.S. military, under the Biden-Harris administration, is taking steps to make things right. The ability to get the health care, and other benefits that all veterans deserve, is extremely important. It appears that it will take time before it reaches all affected veterans. The ability to receive the benefits they have earned will not undo the injustices of the past. Instead, it is a step in the right direction.

LGBTQ+ Discharged Vets Can Get Benefits is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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