House passes Vella-Wilkinson bill allowing gay, transgender discharges to be recorded as honorable
STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives has passed legislation introduced by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) that would extend veterans’ benefits to gay or transgender members of the armed forces who failed to receive honorable discharges.
The bill (2019-H 5443A) would provide a petition process to have a discharge from service recorded as honorable for members of the armed services separated from the service with a general or other than honorable discharge due solely to their sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
“Today, gay members of the armed forces can serve proudly and openly since ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed in 2011,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson, a retired Navy officer. “But that doesn’t absolve us of our duty and obligation to those who served with honor before then. Many gay service members who were unceremoniously shown the door have been denied benefits for decades. And it’s time to right that wrong.”
By some estimates, as many as 100,000 service members were discharged for being gay between World War II and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Many of these were given undesirable discharges, barring them from veterans’ benefits. Under the provisions of the legislation, the director of the Office of Veterans’ Affairs would provide a form certifying that the member’s discharge is to be treated as honorable.
“While the military will now upgrade some of those undesirable discharges to ‘honorable’ status as long as there were no instances of misconduct, digging up decades-old records can be difficult and time-consuming — and it often takes years,” explained Representative Vella-Wilkinson, who serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Some of our LGBT vets who served during World War II, Korean or Vietnam wars choose to deny their service rather than answer prying questions. We don't have the authority to reinstate federal benefits but Rhode Island can certainly take a bold, compassionate step to ensure state and local benefits are afforded to all our deserving patriots.”
The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903