July 25, 2013 at 8:08 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Pocan, Rangel introduce bill for discharged gay veterans
Charlie Rangel, Mark Pocan, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, New York, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) (left) and Rep. Mark Pocan are proposing legislation to ensure gay veterans have honorable discharge papers (D-Wisc.) (Photo of Rangel public domain, Washington Blade photo of Pocan by Michael Key)

More than 100 House members have introduced a bill to ensure gay veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation have “honorable” discharges as one co-sponsor is calling for White House and Pentagon support to help push the legislation forward.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a gay lawmaker, introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act on Thursday, which would streamline the process for gay veterans to change their records to receive an “honorable” discharge if they were expelled for no reason other than sexual orientation.

During a conference call with reporters, Pocan said the bill would help the estimated 114,000 service members expelled because of their sexual orientation since World War II change their records if they were given an other than honorable or dishonorable discharge.

“While the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a landmark step toward equality in our military, tens of thousands of gay and lesbian veterans still have records that are marred with a range of discharges and designations,” Pocan said.

It’s unclear how many of these 114,000 service members discharged because of their sexual orientation — either under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or before that law was enacted — received designations of “other than honorable” or “dishonorable.” Many of the gay service members who receive these designations were expelled before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1993.

Still, Pocan said these service members who received other than honorable or dishonorable discharges don’t have access to certain services — such as the ability the vote, receiving GI benefits or ceremonial burials — in addition to having difficulty finding employment.

Joining Pocan in leading the effort for the legislation is Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), a veteran of the Korean War who said the idea that service members expelled because of their sexual orientation would still have dishonorable discharges is un-American.

“The whole idea that just because of their sexual orientation that they will be given dishonorable discharges, bad discharges, blue discharges, less than desirable discharges is really inconsistent with everything that good Americans think that is fair, and they think that is equitable,” Rangel said.

But Rangel also stepped up the pressure on the Obama administration to help out with efforts to pass the legislation.

“We’re hoping we get this involved in the Department of Defense,” Rangel said. “We hope, too — we haven’t talked about it, Mark — but there’s no question we’re looking to get White House support as well.”

Rangel was optimistic the bill would find sufficient support for passage, even in the Republican-controlled House.

But upon the introduction, the Obama administration had little to say about the legislation. Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said DOD policy is to “not comment on pending legislation.” The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on the legislation.

The legislation currently has 105 sponsors, including Pocan and Rangel. The only Republican to co-sponsor the bill is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

While a process exists for service members to change this designation, the legislation aims to streamline the effort.

“They don’t have a procedure to really upgrade what has been done,” Rangel said. “We are establishing now — an appropriate board would be set up to review the discharge. … Because of the problems that veterans have had, until Mark and I have come up this, there is no legislative solution.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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