At long last (and after two years of ACLU litigation), many lesbian and gay former members of the military will be getting what they deserve: full severance pay regardless of their sexual orientation.
If you serve six years in the military and are then discharged involuntarily, Congress says you’re entitled to separation pay to help ease your transition to civilian life. But the military had a policy – not required by any law – of cutting that separation pay in half if you’re discharged, even honorably, for “homosexuality.”
That policy needlessly compounded the discrimination inflicted by the now repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law in the first place, so two years ago the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the Defense Department seeking full separation pay for the lesbian and gay service members who were shorted pay when they were kicked out.
Lead plaintiff Richard Collins’s story is typical. He was a decorated Air Force Staff Sergeant who served nine years before being discharged. He was seen kissing his civilian boyfriend, in a car at a stoplight, when he was off duty, out of uniform, and ten miles off base. After being discharged under DADT, Collins discovered that his severance pay had been cut in half just because he’s gay. Collins approached us not about challenging his discharge under DADT, but about getting his full separation pay – another $12,000.
I’m pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has just agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying all of the service members 100 percent of the separation pay they are owed. Coming on the heels of the repeal of DADT (for which the Administration deserves tremendous credit), this policy change is a wonderful (if overdue) recognition that these soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines deserve no less than all the others who served honorably and defended their country with their lives.