Pentagon launches review of defunct ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ military policy

US Military Service Members

The Pentagon has made plans to review the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and help the LGBTQ+ veterans who were discharged from the US military as a result.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, introduced by President Bill Clinton in 1994, meant that LGBTQ+ people could serve in the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. As a result, many service members were discriminated against, forced out of the military, and deprived of years of benefits.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the discriminatory policy was repealed.

The Pentagon is addressing its now-defunct Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy
The Pentagon has made plans to review the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. (Getty Images)

Now, on the 12th anniversary of the repeal, the US Defense Department has launched a new initiative to correct these wrongs. That includes conducting a “proactive review” of the records of dismissed veterans, and creating a new webpage that will offer resources to LGBTQ+ people who served in the military.

Speaking at a media roundtable on Wednesday (20 September), the department shared plans to independently identify veterans who received a discharge that was less than honourable between 1994 and 2011.

This will be done through an outreach campaign, conducted online, via email, mail, nonprofits, and veterans service organisations.

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They will then source all military records pertaining to those veterans and submit them for potential correction.

“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for Service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a statement.

“While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient.”

A US military service member stands to attention.
The Defense Department will be conducting a “proactive review” of the records of dismissed veterans. (Getty Images)

Before Wednesday’s announcement, veterans who had been dishonourably discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy could only update their records by submitting an application and documents related to their service in order to receive an upgrade.

According to the department’s website, an estimated 2,000 individuals were less-than-honorably discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

This means that those veterans may have been denied “access to veterans benefits, like home loans, health care, GI Bill tuition assistance, and even some government jobs,” according to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

She also noted: “We know correcting these records cannot fully restore the dignity taken from LGBTQ+ service members when they were expelled from the military. 

“It doesn’t completely heal the unseen wounds that were left, it doesn’t make people whole again, even for those many who received honorable discharges. But this is yet another step we’re taking to make sure we do right by those who served honorably.”

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