WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Nov. 11, the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) released a statement that praised Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for signing into law legislation restoring state and local benefits to veterans discharged from the military under discriminatory policies like the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Signed into law on Nov. 8, the legislation establishes a process for veterans to upgrade their discharge status with the state to reflect their honorable service.
“This new law sends a powerful message of appreciation and support for veterans throughout Rhode Island that were discharged from the military solely because of their sexual orientation,” said MMAA Executive Director and Navy veteran Andy Blevins. “Every veteran deserves access to the benefits they earned honorably serving this great nation, including LGBTQ veterans. MMAA was proud to work with Rhode Island State Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson in drafting this important legislation, and we applaud Gov. Raimondo for signing it into law.”
While the new state law does not change access to federal benefits, veterans discharged under DADT and previous discriminatory policies can apply with the federal government to have their records upgraded. MMAA assists veterans with that process as part of their mission for the LGBTQ military and veteran community.
In related news, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed into law the Restoration of Honor Act giving LGBTQ veterans who were denied an honorable discharge because of their sexual orientation or gender identity the right to apply to have their New York State veterans’ benefits restored.
Gov. Cuomo shared, “With this measure, we are righting that wrong and sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours.”
Blevins, who was discharged under the former DADT law, stated, “New York just sent a powerful message of support for LGBTQ veterans who were kicked out of the military under deeply discriminatory policies.” He added, “New York is joining Rhode Island in leading by example to restore honor to LGBTQ veterans who deserve access to the benefits they earned honorably serving our nation. It’s important that Congress also take action to ensure these veterans also have access to their federal veteran’s benefits.”
An estimated 100,000 service members were discharged between WWII and 1992 based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Between 1993 and 2009, 13,194 LGBTQ service members were discharged under DADT. Most of those service members received less than honorable discharges, preventing them from accessing numerous state and federal veterans’ benefits.
MMAA is also currently working with members of Congress to streamline that process bypassing the Restore Honor to Service Members Act. This federal legislation would correct the military records of service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation to reflect their honorable service and reinstate the federal benefits they earned.