Restore Honor to Service Members Act: How Congress Is Trying to Undo the Wrongs Of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


House representatives announced the "Restore Honor to Service Members Act" last Wednesday, seeking to retroactively correct the records of gay and lesbian veterans who were dishonorably discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).

"As we celebrate the considerable progress we've made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) said in a statement. He joins Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) in introducing the bill.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the law signed by President Clinton in 1993 barring gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, was responsible for the expulsion of 114,000 service members from the U.S. Armed Forces until it was finally repealed in 2011. And though the transition into a more open, slightly-gayer military over the last two years has been a resoundingly uneventful affair, Pocan and Rangel argue that the sting of past injustice still brings daily hardships to those discharged under DADT.

"There are still so many people out there who have served their country honorably," Pocan told reporters at the Washington Blade, "they still don't have access to the GI bill or receiving veteran's benefits. They still can't even have a military burial ceremony. They, in some states, can't vote or get unemployment benefits, so we just need to step up a fair process for these people.

"There are just too many who've served our country so ably and risked their lives, and we owe this to them."

Though procedures currently exist to correct dishonorable discharges, they tend to be time consuming and cumbersome and often require either legal expertise or a lawyer to properly execute. The two representatives say up to 30 of their colleagues in the House are interested in signing on as early supporters.

In addition, the "Restore Honor to Service Members Act" hopes to correct a few other miscellaneous issues that still remain for gay and lesbian service members, including requiring the Pentagon to evaluate the discharge review process and report on its inconsistencies, collect the oral histories of discrimination against gay troops, and remove a bizarre, archaic ban on consensual sodomy.

Pocan, who is one of six openly LGBT people in the 113th Congress, co-chairs the LGBT Equality Caucus. Rangel is a decorated war veteran, who received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for Valor for his service.

"As an American, a congressman, and a Korean War veteran," Rangel said, "I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred openly gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country. Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation."

They say they aren't anticipating too much pushback from the Republican-controlled House, though have alluded to external support to help them push the legislation.

Allison Herwitt, the legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, is ready to help. "The repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nation's armed forces," Herwitt explains. "it is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service."

Rep. Charlie Rangel and Rep. Mark Pocan: