Opinion: Many NJ LGBTQ+ Vets Denied Benefits — This Bill Could Change That
So here's something you might not know. Between World War II and 2011, when Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, an estimated 100,000 LGBTQ service members were less than honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation.
As it turns out, roughly 17,000 of the discharged veterans in that time served in the time of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Enacted in 1994, DADT was, at least in President Clinton's mind, a compromise. It prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while also prohibiting closeted service members from being open about their sexuality. Basically forcing these service members to live in the shadows and in fear.
And for the 17,000 that were discharged for breaching DADT, they lost their right to both state and federal benefits due to the language in the policy. This was the case up until September 2011, when President Obama put an end to it.
Now as great as it is that Obama signed the repeal, little to nothing in the years since has been done as far as making it up to the thousands of veterans in this country that had everything taken away from them simply for being who they are. Absolutely unacceptable.
Other states have come around on this issue. Just last year, Rhode Island's governor signed a bill to help get these vets what they've earned.
As it turns out, a bill is making it's way through the New Jersey legislature right now that would cover all New Jersey veterans dishonorably discharged under DADT. State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who chairs the Senate Military & Veteran’s Affairs Committee, along with Sens. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, and Kristen Corrado, R-Bergen, have co-sponsored the bill.
Garden State Equality's executive director Christian Fuscarino summed it up perfectly in a piece for Insider NJ: "To tell our LGBTQ Veterans that their service means less than their peers simply because of who they are or whom they love defies our values as a nation.”
The bill started picking up steam back in March, but progress has been at a standstill since. Not so much because of opposition but because of priorities. In case you've been in a coma for the last few months, most of the attention in the state has had to remain focused on COVID-19. But now that it seems as though we're coming out of hibernation into a different world, it would be great to see this added to the top of the state's agenda.