It is a discernible truth that over 100,000 veterans were given dishonorable or other than honorable discharges during the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a result of their sexual orientation. You’ll know that as the 90’s era policy that allowed people who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual to serve in the military, just so long as they didn’t tell anyone and noone found out. If you are a younger member of the military, you might think such a policy is but an archaic relic of the distant past. However, many might be shocked to find out that it was the policy that governed the United States military as late as 2011. Less than 10 years ago, men and women who fought in the streets of Iraq and the valleys of Afghanistan were discharged when their sexual orientation was discovered. This is recent history and in the view of this particular Marine and combat veteran of Iraq, it is long past time for those veterans to reclaim their official honor and do so on paper. If I can borrow a few minutes of your time, I’d like to explain.
The Military Has a Lengthy History Of Bending The Rules
I understand that there will be those who will read this article and scoff at the notion of those veterans seeking upgrades to their dishonorable or other than honorable discharges. “That was the law of the land and soldiers are to obey orders,” is something that I can imagine them saying. As a Marine and combat veteran, I sometimes laugh when people highlight the discipline and order of the military as some impenetrable force. From the outside looking in, of course we are more disciplined than your average Joe. We follow orders and obey rules better than most, I guess, but that is only part of the story.
Within the ranks and the camaraderie of the military, we all know that we can bend a rule and skate by a regulation with the best of them. Marines are indeed disciplined creatures, but just don’t swing by the barracks past 11pm on a Friday night unless you want your caricature of us crushed. Against regulations, we can drink under age, drink during the day, and perhaps sneak a lady friend or two into the barracks with the best of them. Not to mention, combat often dictates that we do things that are not exactly textbook.
I could tell you stories about my platoon “tactically acquiring” extra gear from supply in Iraq or perhaps even regale you with purchasing some booze from Iraqi kids at the local market. However, let’s kick it up a notch. Marine Dakota Meyer earned the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan by disobeying direct orders. He was ordered by his command not to rush into the kill zone of an ambush in Afghanistan to save his friends. He requested time and time again and yet, he was denied. So he said screw it and went to save his friends while claiming our nation’s highest honor as a result. So can we just put aside the notion that what a Marine does in their private bedroom at home is somehow the highest form of disobedience we pull off on any given day?
Honor Never Lost Is Still Needed on Paper
I left the military when I got back from Iraq in 2003, but I’ll confess that the military must have been a difficult place for an LGB person to serve during that era. The sort of Alpha male dog eat dog culture wasn’t kind in both words or deeds to persons of that community. Yet, I have no doubt that many LGB persons continued to serve with honor, despite the toxicity. Full confession, I was initially skeptical about the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell, if for no other reason than the fact that I didn’t know how anyone could openly endure it. That’s when a good friend gave me some healthy perspective.
He would routinely see me post on social media about my beloved 2nd platoon and fellow veterans. War forges a bond that endures and there truly is something lost when we all leave each other for the last time. That friend of mine asked me that if any one of my beloved 2nd platoon brethren were to come out now as gay, would that change one ounce of what we endured together.
Initially, I was taken aback by the question, because the answer was such an obvious “NO!” In no shape fashion or form would I retract the hand of brotherhood to those Marines who fought beside me in Iraq because they were gay. In that light, their honor was never lost, regardless of what words were placed upon their discharge. However, those words on paper matter to those who served and in that regard, we should spread the word about how those men and women can claim that paper honor back.
Veterans Are Being Denied Benefits Because Of Words On A Piece of Paper
Currently, I’m in the process of pursuing a VA claim for the arthritis in my lower spine. Life as a grunt isn’t easy on the back, or the rest of the body for that matter. I’m also a happily married man to a wonderful woman, with three lovely children. Unfortunately, they have to bear the burden of my back along with me. I can’t always play with my kids as I would like and there have been times where I missed out on family events just because I couldn’t stand for too long. Whether the VA approves my claim or not, I am not confused in the least about why this is my reality at such a young age.
If you changed my story and replaced wife with husband, I’m not sure what changes in terms of earned benefits. Did my back bear any less burden? Would it have altered the less than graceful exit I took out of a 5-ton vehicle during a firefight in Iraq? Would my spouse and kids endure less as a result of my service nearly 20 years ago? Once again, you have to be taken aback by the question because the answer is obvious.
Veterans who were discharged with dishonorable or other than honorable discharges miss out on a range of those benefits. Keep in mind, not because they have lost any honor. Their actions in uniform and on the battlefield have earned them that unavoidable honor. So, for a word or two extra to be slapped on a discharge that will deny these veterans those benefits is a moral wrong that must be corrected. Fortunately, it can be corrected and that is where Valor4Vet is committed to spreading the word.
Application for the Correction of Military Records
The Veterans Administration will point out that individuals discharged as a result of don’t ask, don’t tell have a strong case for the upgrade of their discharge status. There is an excellent process that one can find here on the VA website and ultimately, it will all come down to submitting a DD Form 149 to the DOD. The only problem is that many veterans discharged under don’t ask don’t tell are not aware of the process or the experience of the painful separation may have led them to never look back again.
Sadly, there are some veterans in this category who have come to the false belief that their discharge was justified. They loved their military service and the fact that the military they loved kicked them out, has led some to believe that they were indeed in the wrong. It isn’t so my friends. You deserve for the honor you earned on the battlefield to be rightly documented on paper.
I have no doubt that men and women of the LGB community have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Tell me, how many graves would we dig up at Arlington National Cemetery if we found out the gallant man or woman laying there was gay? Would we grieve any less with the mother or father of that soldier as they mourned the loss? Then why would we not cover the burn pit exposure, hearing loss, arthritis, trauma or other injury of a living veteran because of their sexual orientation?
A Summary Call for Modern Decency
Regardless of what one feels about sexual orientation as it relates to their culture, faith, or other deeply held personal beliefs, we can recognize inexplicable gallantry for what it is. Such a call for modern decency is what has led to a review of awards from wars past where the individual was denied due to the color of their skin. We can go back and undo what was done, but if I can borrow a line from the ‘80s T.V. series Quantum Leap, we can work now to make right what once went wrong.
This shouldn’t be controversial and those men and women who just over a decade ago were denied the rightful fruits of their honorable service should receive them now. Here at Valor4Vet we fight for all those who served and see to it that they receive their rightfully earned benefits. Men and women discharged during the era of don’t ask, don’t tell, are no different. If you need help, please reach out and we’ll strive to serve you too.
Picture Resource: Obtained from http://www.leonardmatlovich.com/storyofhisstone.html