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VHA Health and Veterans Benefits to Be Restored to Thousands

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest health care system in the U.S., with 172 medical centers and over a thousand outpatient sites. The VHA serves 9 million enrolled veterans annually. 

Starting today, former U.S. service members convicted for non-heterosexuality in the military can apply for a federal pardon, expunging the criminal convictions from their records, and restoring their previously denied veterans benefits, including VHA health care, as well as military disability, pensions, college tuition, VA loan programs, eligibility for federal jobs, and all other benefits afforded to those honorably discharged. Touted as life-changing, these pardons mean previously court-martialed individuals will no longer need to register as felons, will no longer be required to list and explain their felony convictions on their applications for jobs, housing, loans, professional licenses, and in many states, the right to hold public office and the right to vote.

For more than 60 years, from 1951's Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 125, until it was ended in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, military law prohibited LGBTQ+ people from serving. In addition, from 1994 until its repeal in 2011, the U.S. Department of Defense Directive known as Don't Ask Don't Tell was the official United States policy on military service of non-heterosexual people. 

Early conservative estimates suggested at least 100,000 LGBTQ+ service members were forced out of the military, denied an honorable discharge, and deprived of their veterans benefits. Some faced felony criminal court martial and were convicted on a variety of different charges. 

Today, the White House announced that military personnel court martialed and convicted of crimes because of consensual non-heterosexuality are now eligible for pardon using presidential clemency authority. 

Any service member who was so convicted and denied an honorable discharge may apply for a certificate of pardon, and use it to request a change in their discharge status to honorable, thereby unlocking their long-denied veterans benefits. It is not yet known how long this process will take, if some may be entitled to additional remedies such as back pay, or if it may affect spouses, dependents, or survivors.

DoD officials stated it is time consuming and difficult for them to determine eligible cases from their court records because often the charges were listed only as, “conduct unbecoming,” or a variety of other offenses. It is therefore still up to the individual service member, or their representative, to come forward to request their conviction be pardoned, and/or their discharge status be upgraded to honorable. 







[A]dvocates and veterans say the military justice system was systematically weaponized against LGBTQ+ service members.