The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico had filed a class action lawsuit against the policy, which was not part of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" statute and so was not changed when that law was repealed.
"There was absolutely no need to subject these service members to a double dose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in the first place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease the transition to civilian life," said Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico. "This decision represents a long-delayed justice to these veterans."
The ACLU's class action lawsuit represented approximately 181 honorably discharged veterans who had their separation pay cut in half because of the discriminatory policy. The total amount of separation pay withheld from those veterans is approximately $2.4 million.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Richard Collins, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Collins was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico before being seen by a co-worker exchanging a kiss with his boyfriend in their car while stopped at an intersection off-base.
"This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are," said Collins. "We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans."
Under the settlement, all service members covered by the lawsuit will be contacted by the government and notified that they are eligible to opt in to the settlement and receive 100 percent of the separation pay that they would have received had they been discharged for any other honorable reason. Federal law entitles service members to separation pay if they have been involuntarily and honorably discharged from the military after completing at least six years of service in order to help ease their transition to civilian life.
The settlement covers service members who were discharged on or after November 10, 2004, which is as far back as the settlement could extend under the applicable statute of limitations.
"It makes no sense to continue to penalize service members who were discharged under a discriminatory statute that has already been repealed," said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "The amount of the pay owed to these veterans is small by military standards, but is hugely significant in acknowledging their service to their country."
Click here to see a copy of the ACLU's demand letter dated August 30, 2010, summarizing past correspondence with the Department of Defense about the separation-pay policy.
Source: ACLU of New Mexico