Massachusetts veterans who were discharged from military service under the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy are closer than ever to gaining access to state veterans benefits.
Veterans Legal Services applauds the Massachusetts Senate for unanimously supporting an amendment to the 2023 state budget bill, allowing LGBTQ+ veterans who received an “other than honorable” discharge based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity to receive state veterans benefits. VLS calls on the Legislature’s budget conference committee, which will soon reconcile the Senate and House budget bills, and Gov. Charlie Baker to right the injustice that these veterans have suffered for decades.
Sen. John C. Velis, who represents the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District, introduced the Senate budget amendment in late May.
“As we begin Pride Month, it is a fitting time for Massachusetts to stop perpetuating the shameful legacy of discrimination in the administration of its state veterans benefits program, which provides a critical safety net for veterans and their families,” said VLS Co-Executive Director and Chief Counsel Anna Richardson, Esq. “Although Veterans Legal Services has been able to secure these benefits for individual LGBTQ+ veterans through the benefits appeal process, an update in the law to comprehensively honor the service of these veterans across the Commonwealth is long overdue. We thank Senator Velis for his leadership on this important issue.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1994, barring openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from military service. Congress repealed DADT in 2011, and the Biden Administration in 2021 cleared the way for veterans discharged under the law to receive federal veterans benefits. Through executive order last year, President Biden also repealed the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. The order prohibited “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity,” according to the White House. It also required the immediate “correction” of military records of those directly affected by the ban, which was put into place in 2019 by President Donald Trump.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 14,000 servicemembers were discharged under DADT.
“For far too long, thousands of courageous individuals have been told that they are not worthy of the same benefits that their comrades and counterparts earned,” Senator Velis, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, said in a statement. “That their service and their sacrifice are not worth the same. All because of who they are and who they love.
“The years of trauma, abuse and harassment caused by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ cannot be undone,” he added. “But we must do everything in our power to ensure that LGBTQ veterans across the Commonwealth have the same access to benefits and services that other veterans have.”
State benefits for veterans in Massachusetts include property tax exemptions, college tuition waivers, annual annuities (to veterans living with a disability), and the Chapter 115 benefits program. Chapter 115 provides financial assistance to Massachusetts veterans and/or their dependents in need of food, shelter/housing, clothing, and medical care.
About Veterans Legal Services
Veterans Legal Services helps Massachusetts veterans overcome adversity by providing free civil legal aid that honors their service, promotes well-being, and responds to their distinctive needs.
For more information, please contact VLS Director of Communications & Development Jeff Lemberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.