For veterans in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, there is an immense sense of pride that comes from serving their country. Unfortunately for some, they were involuntarily separated from the military due to their sexual orientation, making them ineligible for many Veterans Administration benefits earned by veterans by their military service.

Between the end of World War II and the repeal of the 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it is estimated that more than 100,000 veterans were involuntarily discharged from service due to their sexual orientation. While many of those veterans affected by this policy would likely qualify for a discharge upgrade, few have completed the process.

Sarah Sherman

The DD-214 form (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), is a United States Department of Defense document. It is issued upon a military service member’s retirement, separation or discharge from active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States. It is the most important discharge document a veteran receives because it proves they served in the U.S. military.

It is also required to prove entitlement to various veterans’ benefits (health, housing, home loans and education benefits), and critical for employment purposes. Eligibility for various veterans’ benefits is linked to the type of discharge from service listed on the DD-214. This is sometimes also referred to as the “character of discharge.”

Due to the character of discharge listed on the DD-214s for veterans separated due to sexual orientation, many were unable to claim full veterans’ benefits, had difficulty receiving their G.I. Bill benefits, and had problems finding employment. Even under the, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, some LGBT service members who received honorable discharges were noted as, “Ineligible to reenlist” on their DD-214, which negatively affected their job prospects when asked to explain their circumstances.

One may ask, “What is the significance of a military discharge and why does it matter now?” A discharge terminates the contract to serve in the military. Only enlisted personnel are discharged, and officers resign their commission. Discharges are considered either administrative or punitive. Characterizations of discharge include: Honorable, General Under Honorable Conditions (General), Other Than Honorable (OTH) Bad Conduct (BCD) or Dishonorable (the latter two are recognized as punitive only).

Who changes or corrects military records?

LGBT service members discharged for homosexual conduct under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have been able to apply for a discharge review to the review board that pertains to their branch of service.

What constitutes a basis for correction?

Genuine error, failure to counsel, regulatory violations, any circumstance that creates an injustice, changing standards/law, and clemency.

How can people get help with the discharge upgrade process?

Any veterans service officer at the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services can help fill out a DD Form 149 (Application for Correction of Military Records). At the time of your appointment, you will explain what happened and why your discharged was deemed an injustice. The form will then be submitted to the proper military board for review.

The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services has seven field offices located throughout Maine, including Bangor, Caribou, Lewiston, Machias, Portland, Springvale and at Togus.

Are there other services available for LGBT veterans?

Yes, the Department of Veterans Health Affairs LGBT Health Program is committed to providing quality care to all veterans, including LGBT veterans.

To those veterans in the LGBT community, we are here for you and thank you for your service.

Sarah Sherman is director of Strategic Partnerships for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.