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Bill would give separation pay to troops affected by 'don't ask'

Jun. 26, 2014 - 08:29PM   |  
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California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier wants Congress to give millions in lost separation pay to service members dismissed from the military under the old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, calling it a way to make amends for a shameful chapter in American history.

Under her Military Separation Pay Fairness Act filed Thursday, troops kicked out of the military under the policy — in effect from 1993 to 2010 — who received only partial separation pay would be eligible to receive their lost payouts, with interest.

The measure builds on a class-action lawsuit settlement in January 2013 under which the government agreed to pay about $2.4 million to dozens of former troops whose separation pay was cut in half when they were dismissed for being gay.

That provision covered only about 180 former service members, all of whom had served at least six years before their dismissals. The settlement also covered cases only as far back as 2004 because of issues related to the statute of limitations.

Speier’s legislation would push the eligibility for payouts back another 11 years, to include any troops with six years of service who received less than their full expected separation pay. For years, Pentagon policy held that troops honorably discharged under DADT would receive only half of their separation pay, putting an additional penalty on their forced separation.

In the 2013 settlement, the average makeup payout was about $14,000. Speier could not say how many troops might qualify under her measure.

About 14,000 service members were dismissed from the military under DADT, originally constructed to offer protection for gay troops from discrimination by commanding officers.

Speier’s bill mandates that Congress send out checks within 90 days of the measure becoming law.

But that’s unlikely, given the potential cost and lingering conservative opposition to the repeal of DADT. Speier did not address the cost issue, but in a statement said America still carries wounds from the “unjust policy that punished service members” based on sexual orientation.

“Thousands and thousands of men and women were discharged from the military under a discriminatory directive that stipulated homosexual service members receive only one-half of the separation pay they rightfully earned,” she said. “It’s deplorable that this discrimination has been allowed to continue.”

Members of the Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, OutServe/SLDN and the American Military Partners Association have offered support for the legislation.

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