Many marines and sailors were previously forced out of the military because of their sexuality. Now, the Navy Department officials are urging those who were forced out to step forward and appeal their discharge. The step is to correct a historical wrongdoing and to ensure benefits for all such troops.
The Board for Correction of Naval Records can restore or update various records. This includes counseling letters to detachments for cause. However, in the recent years, they have been compelling veterans who were separated from their services under gay ban, to step forward and get their discharges upgraded.
While addressing the Pentagon in June, during an event for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said “If you were discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ come in. The Board of Corrections for Naval Records will take a look at changing that discharge characterization … If you have colleagues that were discharged under that, ask them to come in — if it’s under the regulations, get that discharge characterization changed.”
The Navy has granted 123 discharge upgrades to 123 requests out of a total of 413 since 2011, according to the Defense Department. This also includes relief from both the Navy Discharge Review Board and BCNR. Note that more than 4,300 and 1,300 Marines and sailors were discharged during DADT, from 1993 to 2011, according to the Statistics shared by the Navy Department.
The BCNR’s executive director was of the view that the NDRB should be the first stop because this way the process will get two reviews. If the case is still rejected, BCNR will be the next step.
According to Scott Thompson, said in an interview in May at the Pentagon, “In the case of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ as the department has recognized a change in societal norms, and we recognize that where the discharge was based only on homosexuality that it would be appropriate to consider a higher discharge.” Scott’s organization’s mission to correct all those errors and injustices that were conducted.
Note that those who have won their cases have been granted access to veteran education and health benefits, he added. Moreover, it should be noted that BCNR is considering requests to upgrade discharges including dishonorable as well. However, Scott added the most of the sexuality related issues were under honorable conditions. This way, most veterans are entitled to all or most of the benefits.
In addition, the easiest of all the cases are of those veterans who were discharged simply for being gay. If there were any chances of misconduct into play then the case is a bit more complicated. Most of the sailors and Marines discharged between 1993 and 2011 were fully honorable and under general honorable conditions. Approximately, 54 percent sailors and 46 percent Marines were fully honorable.
Nevertheless, in a complicated case such as where the person was discharged for homosexuality or fraternization, the case becomes more work but it is still worth pursuing, according to Thompson.
“They should absolutely apply,” he added. “They just need to explain the circumstances that led to the fraternization, or if they contend it wasn’t a valid claim. It’s important to put it into context.”
Note that a lot of veteran organizations have been advocating for service members fired because of their sexuality. After the cancellation of DADT, these organization have worked day and night to upgrade the DoD records.
According to Matt Thor, the Executive Director of the Military LGBT advocacy group Outserve-SLDN, in a statement, “We value the open communication and dialogue with the boards of corrections and strongly feel that the increase in our relationships will help to both encourage individuals to apply for their upgrades and understand the process. The boards have made a very concerted effort to address LGBT service members in their processes; we applaud them for those efforts and look forward to our continued working relationship with them.”
How to Get Justice?
In order to get justice, the first step for veterans is to determine whether they should start with the NDRB or an active duty panel, which works cases that are less than 15 years old. It is recommended to start with the latter. According to Thompson, this way, the veteran gets two chances of getting the case to be reviewed by two separate departments before taking the case to the BCNR’s. Once the decision is made by the BCNR, it is final.
For cases that are older than 15 years, the appeal process will usually being at BCNR’s official website. You will simply star the application to have the case reviewed.
Mervil Dwork, who was fired because of the same issues, told a newspaper about his experience of being jailed and fired, “It meant an awful lot to me because I know I never did anything disgraceful or dishonest.”
Moreover, according to Thompson, the person sending in the case should add as much paperwork possible to make it easier for the department to go through the case. Paperwork can include service records, evaluations, medical diagnoses, investigations and awards.
After the application is submitted, one of the 16 examiners by BCNR will pull an official service record from the Navy Personnel Command to review the applicant’s records. This examiner will then prepare a brief for a panel of three senior Navy Department civilian to discuss the case. This panel meets once a month to hear the case.
Note that is usually takes around a year on an average to close one case. According to Thompson, there is a lot of backlog that needs to be cleared out. However, the recent changes in boosting the manpower by 13 percent and allowing email applications for the victims might just boost things in the right direction.