Stars and Stripes reports that a group of House Democrats has proposed that troops dismissed under the now repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” law should be able to apply for honorable discharge status if it had been initially denied to them, thus permitting them to receive veterans benefits.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), and two Democratic committee member suggested to Defense Secretary Gates that such individuals should be allowed to petition the boards of correction to upgrade their status to an honorable discharge, if they received a lesser status. Department of Veterans Affairs rules restrict eligibility for some health benefits. They are also not eligible for benefits of the GI Bill, may be refused veterans home loans because they were not honorably discharged.
Service men removed from the service because of the inherently discriminatory “Don’t ask” policy, will, in short, be denied the benefits due to those who served their country purely and only because they are gay.
Smith and his colleagues deserve credit and thanks for seeking to remedy this injustice, for which there can be no ethical argument. The conferring of less than honorable discharge status was not even established military policy. Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, told Stars and Stripes that most of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” dismissals were honorable discharges, but that there were many cases where troops were given lesser status simply because of a commander’s negative views on homosexuality. Since 1993, over 14,000 troops were dismissed from the military under the law.
This is an obvious ethics test for Republicans and their Tea Party brethren, many of whom opposed the repeal of “Don’t ask…”. There are core constituents who still support second class citizen status for gay Americans, and for these citizens the plight of gay soldiers kicked out of the Armed Services because they were not heterosexual is a just penalty, even though their discharge status may permanently handicap their future career prospects. The lack of an honorable discharge can act as a an automatic bar to some employment, such as government contracts, law enforcement, or legal work. Despite the biases of their supporters, Republicans have an ethical and a patriotic duty to support Smith’s proposal. The only reasons for doing otherwise are mean-spiritedness, bigotry, and cynical pandering to the worst instincts of their constituency.
Quickly effecting this change is a clear matter of righting a wrong. If the vast majority of G.O.P. leaders and legislators do not actively exert their influence to accomplishing this task, it will be shameful indictment of their values and courage, and that of their party.