The following letter was sent to members of Congress by Representatives Charles B. Rangel and Mark Pocan. A copy of the bill can be found here.
H.R. 2839 Restore Honor to Service Members Act
“Acknowledging Those Who Served America Honorably”
Current Bipartisan Cosponsors: Andrews, Tim Bishop, Sanford Bishop, Brownley, Bustos, Capps, Cardenas, Carson, Cartwright, Castor, Christensen, Cicilline, Clarke, Clay, Cohen, Connolly, Conyers, Crowley, Cummings, DeLauro, DelBene, Deutch, Dingell, Duckworth, Ellison, Engel, Esty, Farr, Fattah, Frankel, Gabbard, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hahn, Alcee Hastings, Higgins, Himes, Holt, Horsford, Israel, Jackson Lee, Hank Johnson, Kaptur, Kennedy, Kildee, Kilmer, Kind, Kuster, Langevin, Larsen, Lee, Lewis, Lofgren, Lowenthal, Lowey, Lujan, Lujan Grisham, Maffei, Carolyn Maloney, Sean Patrick Maloney, McCollum, McDermott, McGovern, Michaud, Moore, Moran, Patrick Murphy, Napolitano, Nolan, Norton, O’Rourke, Owens, Pastor, Payne, Scott Peters, Pingree, Polis, Quigley, Ros-Lehtinen, Rush, Tim Ryan, Linda Sanchez, Sarbanes, Schakowsky, Schiff, Schneider, Schwartz, Shea-Porter, Sinema, Slaughter, Speier, Takano, Titus, Tonko, Tsongas, Van Hollen, Vargas, Veasey, Velazquez, Waxman, Welch, and Frederica Wilson
Endorsed by: American Humanist Association, American Veterans for Equal Rights, Dawn Johnsen, former acting assistant Attorney General, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, co-chairs of the Minority Bar Coalition, Service Women’s Action Network, Swords to Plowshares, Unitarian Universalist Association, Veterans for Peace, and Walter Dellinger, former acting Solicitor General
This bipartisan bill ensures members of the armed forces who served honorably, but were discharged and given a punitive discharge classification solely because of their sexual orientation have their records corrected to reflect their honorable service. This will allow them to access all the benefits normally given to our Veterans, including health and burial rights. It also guarantees that same sex couples in the military have the same freedoms to engage in their relationships as partners of the opposite sex.
The Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Memo implementing the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in September 2011. This Memo, although an instituted policy, is not law. Our bill would make it the law of the land codifying and clarifying the DoD efforts. It ensures that service members form all branches of the Armed Forces receive a timely, consistent, and transparent adjudication of their request for review of their records. Specifically, it provides for discharges that were otherwise honorable, but are tarnished purely because of the service member’s sexual orientation to be rightfully upgraded to honorable. It also removes any indication of service members’ sexual orientation from the record, so that they are not automatically “outed.” Lastly, it decriminalizes consensual acts of sodomy with other humans, making Military laws consistent with Supreme Court rulings.
This bill was inspired by WWII Veteran Melvin Dwork and the estimated 114,000 service members of our Nation’s military who were charged and convicted of being gay or lesbian and expelled from the services from WWII to the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
The Navy changed Melvin Dwork’s discharge from “undesirable” to “honorable” in 2011 — marking what is believed to be the first time the Pentagon has taken such a step on behalf of a World War II veteran. Dwork, 89 years old when the ruling finally came down, spent decades fighting to remove the blot from his record. “I resented that word ‘undesirable,’” said Dwork, who was expelled in 1944, at the height of the war, “That word really stuck in my craw. To me it was a terrible insult. It had to be righted. It’s really worse than ‘dishonorable.’ I think it was the worst word they could have used.”
This issue is more than the righting of symbolic wrongs. Every form of discharge given under these policies holds lifelong repercussions for the service members. In many states, a Dishonorable Discharge is treated as a felony and even a General Discharge may result in “substantial prejudice in civilian life.” In many instances, employers will request a copy of a serve member’s record, and they will not hire someone with anything less than an honorable discharge. If unchanged, these records out service members to their future employers, regardless of their consent or desire for privacy.
The “Restore Honor to Service Members Act” turns temporary policy into settled law and clarifies the current review process. Help us right a great injustice and recognize the honor and dignity with which these men and women served.
Should you have any questions, please contact Patrick Burns at Patrick.Burns@mail.house.gov 5-4354 or Bridget.Rochester@mail.house.gov 5-2906.
Charles B. Rangel, Member of Congress
Mark Pocan, Member of Congress