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New York Grants State Benefits to LGBTQ Veterans

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Rhode Island passed a similar law last week.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law Tuesday making state benefits available to LGBTQ veterans who had been dishonorably discharged because of their sexuality or gender.

The Restoration of Honor Act ensures that service members who faced repercussions because of "don't ask, don't tell" or other administrative bans will be able to access benefits they had previously been denied, reports the Washington Blade.

Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday the law is intended to send "a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours."

"Adding insult to injury, [discharged service members] 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," Cuomo said.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a gay Democrat who was instrumental in passing the bill, said the legislation was a long time coming, according to Courthouse News.

Four years ago, Holyman's office found in a report that about 114,000 service members have received a dishonorable discharge because of their gender identity or sexual orientation since World War II. "Don't ask, don't tell" specifically led to the ousting of at least 14,000 troops, the report said.

"The first such discharge occurred in 1778 under orders from then-General George Washington," Courthouse News reported.

"Even as gay and lesbian Americans have been able to openly serve in the military for nearly a decade, generations of LGBTQ Americans are still unable to access many veterans' benefits due to the status of their military discharge," Hoylman said in a statement.

"Many veterans have received 'less than honorable discharges', also known as bad papers ... as a result of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, including as a result of the federal policy known as Don't Ask Don't Tell. These discharges cannot be revised by the state, however, a number of state benefits require an honorable discharge. As a result, many New York veterans are ineligible for state benefits because of these bad papers," the law reads.

The law, which Cuomo signed as part of a 14-bill package after Veterans' Day, also extends benefits to veterans who received "less than honorable" discharges resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma.

Rhode Island passed a similar law last week restoring benefits to LGBTQ veterans discharged as a result of their sexual orientation.

Other legislation to aid LGBTQ veterans is in the works in Congress. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan has introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which will speed up the process of updating discharges for LGBTQ service members and make it easier for them to access benefits, the Washington Blade reports.

Although President Barack Obama repealed "don't ask, don't tell" in 2010, President Donald Trump's trans military ban remains in effect.

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