The Massachusetts State Senate has unanimously passed an amendment making veterans discharged from the U.S. military under its "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy eligible for state benefits. The amendment was filed by state Sen. John Velis, a Democrat, who said it was time to acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions made by LGBTQ+ service members wrongly discharged under the since-eliminated policy.
“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,” Velis said in a statement that was posted to social media. “That their service and their sacrifice are not worth the same. All because of who they are and who they love.”
"Don’t ask, don’t tell"was the policy of the U.S military from February 28, 1994, through September 20, 2011. The policy prevented the military from asking service members if they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but also prevent service members from disclosing such an identity. Service members could still be discharged for their sexual identity, including those who disclosed it on their own. While the policy was a step forward, it was not a complete acceptance of LGBTQ+ service members and did not eliminate discrimination.
On the 10th anniversary of its repeal, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement the repeal “strengthened our national security and reaffirmed the bedrock principle thatthose willing and able to serve and be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are or whom they love.”
Velis echoed those sentiments in his statement announcing the passage of his amendment.
“The years of trauma, abuse, and harassment caused by 'don't ask, don't tell' cannot be undone,” Velis said, referencing the failures of the policy. “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.”
“LGBTQ veterans that were discharged under the now-defunct 'don't ask, don't tell policy' served their country proudly and are every bit as entitled to state Veteran benefits as any other service member. We are grateful to Senator Velis for his recognition of their service and his leadership in ensuring that their sacrifice will be honored by restoring the benefits that they rightfully earned,” said Tanya Neslusan, executive director of MassEquality, reports local TV station WWLP.
The move mirrors steps taken by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which says service members discharged for their sexual identity under the policy are now eligible for federal benefits.