US: Military service members discharged for being gay receive severance settlement

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Dozens of gay and lesbian former military service members who were discharged for being gay will receive the rest of their severance pay under a ruling made by federal court on Monday.

Under a policy brought into effect in 1991, two years before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell became law, many gay and lesbian people in the US military received only half of their severance pay upon their dismissal, reports the Associated Press. 

The American Civil Liberties Union said that the settlement will cover the severance pay of more than 180 former service members, and constitutes $2.4 million (£1.5 million).

Laura Schauer Ives, the managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, said the settlement was a “long-delayed justice.” She said:

“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.”

The case was filed in 2010 by the ACLU on behalf of Air Force Staff Sergeant, Richard Collins, of Clovis, New Mexico.

The lawsuit argued that it was unconstitutional for the department to only halve the amount of severance pay received by members discharged for being gay.

Mr Collins was honourably discharged in 2006, after two civilians who worked with him on Cannon Air Force Base reported that they had seen him kiss his boyfriend in a car 10 miles from the base. He was off duty and not in uniform at the time.

He released a statement saying that the settlement meant a lot to himself, and others forced out of the military for being gay.

Speaking for the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, said the Defense Department was aware of the settlement and that it “will, of course, continue to follow the law, as well as the terms of the agreement.”

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed on 20 September 2011, amidst warnings that the US military would be aversely affected by the change.

During the lawsuit the administration did not defend Dont Ask Don’t Tell, but said that the Defense Secretary would have sole discretion to decided who would receive severance pay, and said that the court should not attempt to rewrite military regulations.

Severance pay is normally given to military personnel who serve at least six years, but who are involuntarily and honourably discharged.

The settlement includes service members discharged on or after 10 November 2004, who will be notified of the ruling, and allowed to opt-in to receive the settlement.

A recent study reported no negative impact on the US Military since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.