Ten years after the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell, former members of the military who were forced out of the service for being gay say they still face repercussions from the policy that one lawmaker called “a dark chapter in the history of our nation’s military.”
On Wednesday, members of a House subcommittee heard testimony about the lingering effects. Some ex-service members suffer from debilitating depression and trauma disorders. Others struggle to find work, and many don’t have access to the benefits other veterans receive — a discrepancy that leaves them at higher risk of mental health issues. Studies have found that 15 percent of LGBTQ veterans attempt suicide, compared with less than 1 percent for the entire veteran population.
Leaders at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have vowed to expand access and made a new push this week to encourage some veterans discharged under the policy to apply for benefits.
But the directive, which VA representatives called a “policy clarification,” doesn’t go far enough, advocates for LGBTQ veterans said. It doesn’t cover all veterans pushed out under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and because it’s not enshrined in law, a different administration could choose to abandon it. This fall, LGBTQ veterans and their advocates are pursuing legislation and lawsuits to mitigate the damage done by the policy.
“It’s an important milestone to recognize that it’s been 10 years since this harmful policy was lifted, but the trauma clearly continues for those who served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) said in an interview. LGBTQ veterans “had to hide who they were, and that still weighs very heavily on them as they look for employment, and as they fight with the bureaucracy at the VA to get connected to the care and benefits that they earned.”
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