Today, the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA), the nation’s largest non-profit organization for the LGBTQ military and veteran community, released the following statement praising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing into law the Restoration of Honor Act. The legislation gives 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. On Friday, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed similar legislation into law.
“New York just sent a powerful message of support for LGBTQ veterans who were kicked out of the military under deeply discriminatory policies,” said MMAA Executive Director and Navy veteran Andy Blevins, who was discharged under the former “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) law. “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 veterans benefits.”
“Countless service members were discharged from the military simply because of who they are. Adding insult to injury, they were then denied the services and benefits they earned as members of our armed forces who fought to protect our country and defend our ideals,” said Governor Cuomo in a press release. “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.”
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 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Most of those service members received less than honorable discharges, preventing them from accessing numerous state and federal veterans’ benefits.
While New York and Rhode Island’s new laws only restore access to state and local benefits, veterans discharged under DADT and previous discriminatory policies can apply with the federal government to have their records upgraded. Because it can be complicated and confusing, MMAA assists veterans with this process as part of their mission for the LGBTQ military and veteran community.
MMAA is also currently working with Members of Congress to streamline the cumbersome process for discharge upgrades by passing 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 have earned.
New York’s new law also restores state benefits eligibility for veterans who received less than honorable discharges as a result of military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last month, New York became the first state in the country requiring all of its veterans’ services staff to be certified in LGBTQ and HIV+ competency training. MMAA was proud to train the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services through MMAA’s Rainbow Shield certification program, designed to help educate and empower providers and advocates who serve the LGBTQ and HIV+ military and veteran community.