By REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL
Recently, National Public Radio covered the story of Hal Faulkner, a 79-year-old Marine with terminal cancer whose dying wish was to have his discharge upgraded to Honorable. In 1956, he was kicked out of the United States Marines with an “undesirable discharge” for being gay. His military papers said “homosexual” forcing him to hide his service from perspective employers and avoid discussing his service with his family.
The Marines acted on his dying request in just two weeks. A small group – including Marines – presented Faulkner with his honorable discharge. OutServe-SLDN supplied Hal Faulkner with a pro-bono lawyer to help him through the process. I applaud the Marines for expediting Hal Faulkner’s case but it proves there is no reason for the time and expense placed upon the “victims” of an unjust policy to once again prove their innocence.
Earlier this month, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administrative process in place for upgrading paperwork is sufficient to ensure troops dismissed for being gay during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-era and before have honorable discharges. This statement contradicts the data and personal experiences we are recording from LGBT Veterans and their lawyers who find the process takes from six months to several years and requiring the assistance of a lawyer familiar with the process.
As a Veteran and congressman who has spent all of my adult life fighting for my country and the rights of many of my countrymen without a voice – I want to see the right of these LBGT Veterans firmly embedded into the law of this great nation. The rights of our nation’s Veterans should not hinge on a process enacted by a memo or even an Executive Order that can be easily overturned or dismissed by the next administration.
When I watched the Republican presidential debates and a service member on the front lines in Afghanistan was beamed in live and asked all the presidential candidates, ‘If they would work to undo the repeal of DADT?’ That service member was heckled and jeered by the audience and all eight presidential candidates stood on the stage in silence. I knew then more needed to be done. This “process” needs the power of law behind it.
The repeal of DADT is law but the Under Secretaries’ Memo regarding the upgrade of service to “Honorable” is not law. There is no law forcing this or any administration to do the right thing. The president is doing this because it is the right thing to do and he has the authority to allow the review boards to perform this duty. The next president may choose a different path and there would be no law to stop the next president from doing so.
President Obama has been a leader in the fight for the rights of all service members. The Secretary of Defense has been a leader in implementing these rights. It was the president’s Under Secretary of Defense who published the memo that has acted as a cornerstone of the “Restore Honor to Service Members Act.”
The president stated very clearly in his State of the Union Address that he would do whatever he could do, within his authority, to move the country forward when Congress refuses to act. The president has done his job for service men and women. Congress needs to do its job and codify the process of “Restoring Honor to Service Members.” That is why I turned to Congressman Pocan and the Congressional LGBT Caucus to write the law that will ensure the rights of our LGBT Veterans. Working with Congressman Pocan and the Congressional LGBT Caucus we now have more than 150 co-sponsors of “Restore Honor to Service Members Acts.” In the Senate, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Schatz have already added 15 senators to the growing number of senators ready to act and we are adding more cosponsors each week.
There are additional concerns and nuances in the legislation that go beyond the Under Secretary of Defense’s Memo that we address. This is a solid law that will protect the rights of the LGBT Veterans and help correct a great injustice done to so many for so long.
Democrat Charles B. Rangel represents New York’s 13th congressional district in Congress.