Military personnel who had their separation pay cut in half after being discharged for being gay will receive their full pay under a legal settlement announced today.
The settlement comes in Collins v. United States, a class action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and its New Mexico affiliate. It is named for lead plaintiff Richard Collins, who was honorably discharged from the Air Force after being observed kissing his boyfriend but saw his separation pay cut because his discharge was for homosexuality.
"There was absolutely no need to subject these service members to a double dose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in the first place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease the transition to civilian life," said Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, in a press release. "This decision represents a long-delayed justice to these veterans."
The pay reduction was a Defense Department policy and not part of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, so it did not change when the law was repealed, ACLU officials noted.
The settlement covers personnel who were discharged on or after November 10, 2004, as far back as it could extend under the applicable statute of limitations. The total amount of pay owed to these service members is about $2.4 million, which "is small by military standards, but is hugely significant in acknowledging their service to their country," said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project."
Under the settlement, the federal government will contact all service members covered by the suit and notify them that they are eligible to opt in to the settlement and receive 100% of the separation pay that they would have received had they been discharged for any other honorable reason. Federal law entitles service members to separation pay if they have been involuntarily and honorably discharged from the military after completing at least six years of service.