Honor is restored for many New York veterans

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

The Restoration of Honor Act went into effect on Nov. 12, 2020, a year after being signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to commemorate Veteran’s Day.

The law restores eligibility for state veterans benefits for anyone who was dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

These “qualifying conditions” are defined by a variety of circumstances. The first focuses on LGBTQ veterans who have been dishonorably discharged due to their sexual orientation or identity and expression. This includes individuals discharged through the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Act, repealed in 2011. 

Other conditions involve veterans who were dishonorably discharged due to circumstances involved with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries and military sexual trauma.  

These “less than honorable” discharges cannot be revised by the state, however, a number of state benefits require an honorable discharge. As a result, many New York veterans are ineligible for state benefits because of these “bad papers.”

Sen. Brad Hoylman, who was a primary sponsor of the bill in the state Senate (S.45-B), said he is happy the law has now taken effect, one year after being signed by the governor. 

“If you serve our country, our country should take care of you, period,” Hoylman said. “The legacy of discriminatory prohibitions on military service means generations of LGBTQ Americans are still unable to access many veterans’ benefits due to the status of their military discharge.”

The bill was sponsored in the Assembly (A.8097)  by Didi Barrett.

“The men and women who have stepped up and risked their lives to protect and serve our country embody what it means to be a hero. Yet, for far too long, many of our veterans in the LGBTQ community, those who experienced military sexual trauma and vets struggling with mental and behavioral health disorders have been denied the support and resources they’ve earned when they separate from service,” Barrett said.

According to Hoylman, there are at least 53 state benefits that were previously inaccessible and are now available for these individuals. 

Edward Field, an Air Force veteran from World War II, said that his circumstance was the exception, and not the rule, for LGBTQ soldiers like himself.

“It was pure chance that I completed my military service as a gay soldier without getting caught. The military in World War II was full of gay men and women, and it is thanks to them that I learned about the world I was facing upon returning to civilian life. I was one of the lucky ones,” Field said. “Several of my buddies were discharged without honor and without veterans’ benefits, and tarnished by the social disgrace and faced a struggle returning to civilian life. Thanks to this legislation, all gay veterans will be able to get the benefits they deserve.”

The New York State Division of Veteran Services began accepting applications on their website back in June and have been giving decisions since Nov. 12 when the law took effect. 

Veterans and their families can visit https://veterans.ny.gov/content/restoration-honor-act for more information.