California has passed a law making it easier for veterans discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” to receive benefits.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 325 into law over the weekend, establishing the Veterans Discharge Upgrade Grant Program, the Associated Press reports. It was sponsored by Assemblymember Jacque Irwin, a Democrat.
Many of those who were discharged under DADT, in effect from 1994 to 2011, and the previous even stricter ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members received a “less than honorable” or “other than honorable” discharge, which disqualifies them from receiving benefits such as health care, home loans, and assistance with education.
After DADT ended, they could apply for an upgrade to the discharge, but many have found the process complicated, and sometimes they have had to hire lawyers. A Center for American Progress report found that it was so difficult that fewer than 500 vets had applied. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced last year that these vets could receive the full slate of benefits without the upgrade, but it has yet to issue guidance on how this works. A lawsuit from the National Veterans Legal Services Program seeks to force the VA to release the information.
The California program is designed to help with the upgrade process. “While the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ ended a shameful injustice against LGBTQ Americans serving in our armed forces, its legacy continues to burden the women and men unfairly ousted under the discriminatory policy,” Newsom said in a press release Saturday. “With this legislation, the state will help these heroes navigate the process to correct the record and access important benefits they deserve and have earned many times over. I thank Assemblymember Irwin for advancing this measure to do right by our veterans and further California’s commitment to equality.”