California Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia, the first out immigrant elected to Congress and the president of the most recent class of new legislators, has led a forceful oversight letter to the Department of Defense.
Three gay Democratic U.S. congressmen have sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding a quicker response to resolving cases of LGBTQ+ people dishonorably expelled from the military under the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy.
Signed by California Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia, the first out immigrant elected to Congress and the president of the most recent class of new legislators; Rep. Mark Pocan, the chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus from Wisconsin; and out Rep. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, the letter was sent to Secretary Lloyd J. Austin.
The lawmakers’ letter to Austin lauds the department’s increased outreach to dishonorably discharged veterans under DADT. But lawmakers seek data from the department so that oversight can take place to understand delays in the process. The letter provides sobering statistics, noting that out of the 32,837 veterans separated under the “Homosexual Conduct” policy from 1980 until the repeal, a mere 57 percent have received Honorable Discharges.
The Pentagon announced last year that it would itself review the expulsions under DADT instead of forcing former servicepeople to apply for the updated discharge.
Related: Pride in the Military a Decade+ After ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
In the letter, the lawmakers wrote, “Since DADT repeal, many veterans who sought to upgrade their less than honorable discharges reported a prolonged and burdensome process, often requiring the use of a lawyer, to seek the respect and benefits they rightfully earned. And far too many veterans discharged under DADT had no idea they could seek an upgrade or where to start the process.”
The letter seeks comprehensive information from the Pentagon, crucial for evaluating the progress and efficacy of the efforts to correct the records of veterans discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It also requests data on applications for discharge upgrades, clear reasons for denials, and the procedural timelines involved, as well as calls on the DoD to identify and resolve any legislative or financial barriers hindering progress.
Garcia, Pocan, and Pappas demand specific details from the Pentagon by March 1, including the number of applications for discharge upgrades and information on the procedural and financial barriers that may impede the review process. This request is a follow-up to the Pentagon’s decision in September 2023 to proactively review cases of service members who were dismissed under DADT, and who have been denied vital veteran benefits such as health care and tuition support because of their discharge categorization.
“Our service members made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a policy that should have never existed in the first place, but we’re unfortunately still feeling the repercussions of it to this day,” Garcia said in a press release.
“Now, the Department of Defense has the responsibility to uplift LGBTQ+ veterans who were previously degraded because of their sexuality. We are calling on the Secretary of Defense to continue prioritizing the Department’s commitment to reevaluate the thousands of cases where an LGBTQ+ serviceworker was discharged under less than honorable conditions in an attempt to correct the record and honor them the way they deserve,” Garcia added.
Related: Pentagon Says It’ll Review Cases of LGBTQ+ Vets Who Were Denied Honorable Discharges: Report
Pocan said, “The United States government has a moral obligation to right the wrongs it committed when it dishonorably discharged veterans from the armed services on the grounds of their sexual orientation.”
Pappas also highlighted the urgency of the corrections.
“While it’s been thirteen years since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the trauma of these policies is not over, and for far too many LGBTQ+ service members and veterans, their injustice has not been corrected,” he said in the release.