On September 20th, 2021, the tenth anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, VA assistant secretary for public affairs, Kayla Williams delivered a statement regarding benefits eligibility for LGBTQ+ Veterans who where discharged under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, including those whose service was characterized as under other than honorable conditions.
The statement described new guidance from the White House:
"Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to reverse the harm done to all LGBTQ+ Veterans.... "
"Under this newly-issued guidance, VA adjudicators shall find that all discharged service members whose separation was due to sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status are considered “Veterans” who may be eligible for VA benefits, like VR&E, home loan guaranty, compensation & pension, health care, homeless program and/or burial benefits, so long as the record does not implicate a statutory or regulatory bar to benefits.
This policy statement does not represent a change in law, as Veterans who were discharged under DADT alone have been generally eligible for benefits under current statute and regulation. However, this policy reiterates what constitutes eligibility for benefits under law. In addition, every Character of Discharge case that is initially considered for denial will also get a second look before that action is taken. Given that large numbers of LGBTQ+ Veterans who were affected by previous homophobic and transphobic policies have not applied for a discharge upgrade due to the perception that the process could be onerous, we are hopeful that this policy statement encourages more of them to contact VA to determine their eligibility for care and services.
While it is not entirely clear what this means case by case for actual changes, the intent appears to be indicating that LGBTQ+ Veterans whose previous characterization of service prevented them from receiving services and benefits will now be more likely to have those benefits granted through the VAs internal Character of Discharge process. which can award some benefits regardless of the characterization listed on a persons actual military discharge documents.