By The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — A new law in California will help military service members who were discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies because of their sexual or gender identities to reestablish their eligibility for Veterans Affairs benefits, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday.
“For decades, our bravest heroes, men and women who wore the uniforms of the armed services had to hide who they really were, and many were other than honorably discharged if their sexuality was discovered,” Newsom said in a statement after announcing he had signed the bill.
Gays and lesbians were banned in the military until the 1993 approval of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed them to serve only if they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Rather than helping, advocates say, the policy created more problems. In its entire history, the military dismissed more than 100,000 service members based on their sexual or gender identities — 14,000 of them during “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Repeal of the law was approved by Congress and then President Barack Obama in late 2010 and took effect nine months later, allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve openly.
The Department of Defense subsequently created a path for veterans who had been discharged under the policy to receive the full range of veterans’ benefits.
“But many veterans sadly don’t know or can’t even access this important process,” Newsom said, adding that some veterans trying to reclaim benefits have had to hire expensive legal counsel and other assistance to navigate the process. “We’re taking steps to fix this.”
The law will require the California Department of Veteran Affairs to establish the Veterans Discharge Upgrade Grant Program to help advise LGBTQ veterans who were discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to help those who qualify to update and correct their records and access veterans’ benefits.