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February 11, 2011

U.S. is demanding money from DADT-discharged vets

Separation pay is cut in half, then Pentagon claims they owe it thousands

Washington, D.C.--Despite the process being underway to eliminate the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, people who were dismissed under the policy are finding out they face another challenge: They receive only half the usual separation pay, and in some cases, the government claims they owe it thousands of dollars.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Pentagon on behalf of Richard Collins, a nine-year veteran of the Air Force who was discharged under DADT after two civilian coworkers saw him kissing his boyfriend.

Personnel who are honorably discharged after serving six years get separation pay, but Collins is just one of the people dismissed under DADT to find out that their separation pay was cut in half.

The ACLU quoted a January Department of Defense memo saying that under Pentagon policy, anyone discharged for being gay or lesbian has been entitled to only half of the sum paid to other honorably discharged service members.

The national and New Mexico branches of the ACLU filed the suit in November.

“It is hard to imagine what possible justification the government could present for continuing to withhold full separation pay benefits from anyone dismissed from the armed forces due to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” said Laura Ives, a staff attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. “The government must do the right thing and pay these men and women who have served our country honorably the full separation pay they deserve.”

Separation pay is meant to help ease veterans’ transitions back into civilian life.

Veterans owe the government?

In other situations, the military is charging discharged veterans for training and education, claiming that the troops broke their promises to serve their country, even though they were involuntarily removed from service.

Lt. Dan Choi, who has been the face of the movement to repeal DADT, is one such veteran. Anthony Woods, who, like Choi, graduated from West Point, not only had the Pentagon refuse to pay for his accrued leave when he was serving in Iraq, but after discharging him, they sent Woods a bill for $33,000.

That’s the same amount the military is trying to get from Mara Boyd, who was ejected from the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Colorado four years ago for being lesbian.

The Pentagon not only is demanding that J.D. Knight pay back his signing bonus from over a decade ago, they had the IRS divert his entire federal tax refund, nearly $2,000, towards the debt they claim he owes.

The four gay and lesbian members of the House of Representatives have all signed a letter from the office of Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin calling for the Pentagon to reinstate full separation pay, although it does not discuss the demands for repayment of education expenses.

“All the men and women who wear the uniform of this country deserve not only our deepest respect, but also our unwavering support regardless of whether they are straight or gay,” said Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado. “As we fully implement the repeal of DADT, we must take action to ensure fair treatment for the many soldiers who, despite bravely serving our country, were discharged under this policy. They have earned it.”

The repeal, which passed in December, will take effect after the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that all branches of the military have been properly trained to handle openly gay and lesbian troops serving, and all the rules to enable this are in place without adversely affecting military readiness and effectiveness.

Training has already begun. The Navy has ordered that its training be completed by June 30.

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