Rep. Vella-Wilkinson bill would extend benefits to gay veterans who received ‘Undesirable’ discharge
STATE HOUSE — Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would extend veterans’ benefits to gay members of the armed forces who were discharged under the military’s “Undesirable” discharge.
The bill (2017-H 5198) would permit the recipients of general or “Undesirable – Class I or II Homosexual” discharges to qualify for state veterans’ benefits when the discharge was based on the veteran’s sexual orientation.
“Today, gay members of the armed forces can serve proudly and openly since ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed in 2011,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson, a retired Navy officer. “But that doesn’t absolve us of our duty and obligation to those who served with honor before then. Many gay service members who were unceremoniously shown the door have been denied benefits for decades. And it’s time to right that wrong.”
By some estimates, as many as 100,000 service members nationwide were discharged for being gay between World War II and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Many of these were given undesirable discharges, barring them from veterans’ benefits.
“While the military will now upgrade some of those undesirable discharges to ‘honorable’ status as long as there were no instances of misconduct, digging up decades-old records can be difficult and time-consuming — and it often takes years,” explained Representative Vella-Wilkinson, who serves on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This law will effectively redefine who a veteran is by acknowledging the ‘Undesirable – Class I or II Homosexual’ classification and extending state benefits to those who received such a discharge.”
Representative Vella-Wilkinson plans to look at the possibility of amending the legislation to specifically state which discharge codes would be eligible, to make the matter less personally intrusive to veterans.
The bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives Robert A. Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry), Robert B. Lancia (R-Dist. 16, Cranston), Joseph J. Solomon Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Warwick), and Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), has been referred to the House Finance Committee.
For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903