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California Gov. Newsom signs bill to help LGBTQ military veterans reclaim benefits

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday signed a bill that will help LGBTQ veterans discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies reestablish their eligibility for Veterans Affairs benefits.

The bill, AB 325 by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, assists LGBTQ veterans in updating their records and accessing education, health, burial, and other benefits available to honorably discharged service members. 

“For decades, our bravest heroes, men and women who wore the uniforms of the armed services had to hide who they really were, and many were other than honorably discharged if their sexuality was discovered,” Newsom said in a statement after announcing he had signed the bill.

Gays and lesbians were banned in the military until the 1993 approval of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed them to serve only if they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Rather than helping, advocates say, the policy created more problems. In its entire history, the military dismissed more than 100,000 service members based on their sexual or gender identities — 14,000 of them during “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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Repeal of the law was approved by Congress and then-President Barack Obama in late 2010. The law took effect nine months later, allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve openly.

The Department of Defense subsequently created a path for veterans who had been discharged under the policy to receive the full range of veterans’ benefits.

Still, many veterans do not know how to navigate this important process, Newsom said, noting that some have had to hire expensive legal counsel and other assistance to reclaim their benefits.

“While the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ ended a shameful injustice against LGBTQ Americans serving in our armed forces, its legacy continues to burden the women and men unfairly ousted under the discriminatory policy,” Newsom said. 

The law will require the California Department of Veteran Affairs to establish the Veterans Discharge Upgrade Grant Program to help advise LGBTQ veterans who were discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” and to help those who qualify to update and correct their records and access veterans’ benefits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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