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Promote Equality for All Troops and Veterans

Diversity is a force multiplier for our armed forces as well as for our nation. As a next-generation veterans empowerment, advocacy and support organization, IAVA is proud of its record of standing on the right side of equality issues within the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD). IAVA will continue working to ensure that our nation maintains the best and most qualified force possible and that all veterans are properly honored by our nation and served by the VA.

Before it became popular to do so, IAVA—based on input and guidance from our membership via our annual member survey—was the first mainstream veterans organization to come out in support of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). As then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said, lifting the ban on known gay and lesbian service members was “a matter of integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as a nation.”

Similarly, IAVA led the veterans community in endorsing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In 2013, before the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA violated the U.S. Constitution, IAVA became a signatory to an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court. We argued that DOMA was not only morally wrong and unconstitutional, but it also impeded the readiness of our armed forces and negatively impacted unit cohesion and morale by forcing the DoD to treat some service members and their families different from others.

There has been general positivity as the DoD and the VA have successfully implemented these changes in policy; however, as with any new transformational policy, more work remains to ensure that all service members, veterans and their families are truly treated equally under the law.

9.1: Equalize Benefits and Services for LGBT Veterans and Their Families
9.2: Conduct Outreach to LGBT Veterans
9.3: Equalize Treatment of LGBT Troops and their Families in Overseas Assignments 

9.1: Equalize Benefits and Services for LGBT Veterans and Their Families

The Supreme Court decision in the Windsor case brought about the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which opened up over 1,100 federal benefits for same-sex couples and families, including those for active duty service members. With the historic Supreme Court decision in Obergevell v. Hodges finding that states cannot keep same sex couples from marrying and must recognize their union, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD) must now ensure same-sex partners of veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled. With this recent decision, Section 103c of Title 38, often referred to as a “mini-DOMA,” must be repealed, and the VA must work quickly to ensure equality of benefits to all veterans and their partners.

IAVA Recommendations:
I.Repeal section 103c of Title 38. (aka “mini-DOMA)

II. Fully recognize same-sex marriage of all veteran’s, where the veteran or the veteran’s spouse resides anywhere in the United States or its territories at the time of the marriage or at the time of application for benefits. 

III. Swiftly and fully implement the administration of VA policies and benefits to veterans and spouses of veterans married anywhere in the United States or its territories.

IV. Support and fund veteran support programs specifically dedicated to gay and lesbian service members, veterans and their families.

V. Complete an evaluation of the policy and readiness implications of DoD allowing transgender service members to serve openly in the military and integrate the findings into a comprehensive plan of action for transgender service member serving in the military.

9.2: Conduct Outreach to LGB Veterans

The changes to the status of and benefits available to LGB troops and veterans over the past few years have left many confused or unaware of the new benefits and opportunities now available to them. This is especially the case for veterans who have been disconnected from the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD) for many years. Many veterans are not aware that they can now change the reasons for discharge if they were previously discharged for “homosexuality,” or that some may be eligible for discharge characterization upgrades if their previous characterization was based solely on animus and prejudice. Others remain in the dark about their eligibility for VA health care, education and home loan benefits. Still others have simply felt shunned or fearful of being shunned should they enroll in the VA and begin accessing the benefits and services for which they may have been eligible.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. 
Launch an organized, systemic education and outreach campaign targeting LGB veterans about new benefits and services that may now be available to them and their families.

II. Reach out to veterans who were discharged pursuant to DADT and offer assistance in updating and/or upgrading discharge paperwork.

9.3: Equalize Treatment of LGB Troops and their Families in Overseas Assignments

Even following the Supreme Court ruling that struck down DOMA, the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) between the United States and some foreign countries in which U.S. troops may be stationed are antiquated. Even in some countries that recognize rights and benefits for same-sex couples and families, the existing SOFAs have yet to be updated to reflect a change in U.S. law following the Windsor decision. The continued existence of such outdated agreements creates a professional and family dilemma for service members who may want or need to be stationed abroad for certain long-term overseas assignments. Often the legal frameworks to renegotiate these SOFAs in order to make these changes are already in place and the only hold up is administrative and bureaucratic.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Require Status of Forces Agreements to include parity for same-sex military spouses. 

II. Establish a policy to prevent inadvertent career detriments to LGB troops who may be unable to consider certain foreign assignments due to SOFAs.