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Lawmakers want oversight of Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" discharge review

LGBTQ vets finally get honorable discharge
LGBTQ military veterans finally seeing the benefits from an honorable discharge 05:58

A group of Democratic lawmakers wants to know more about steps the Pentagon is taking to restore military honor and benefits to LGBTQ+ veterans who were dismissed because of their sexual orientation, asking for oversight of the process in a new letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. 

Last September, the Pentagon announced it would begin "proactively" reviewing the discharges of LGBTQ+ veterans who were kicked out of the military before 2010, when the policy that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly, known as "don't ask, don't tell," was repealed. This means that these veterans would not have to apply for the upgrade themselves, a process that both veterans and experts say is often unsuccessful without the help of a lawyer.

The Pentagon's announcement came after a year-long CBS News investigation that revealed thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans were still carrying less-than-honorable discharges and were deprived of their full veterans' benefits including VA loan programs, college tuition assistance, health care and some jobs. 

Three Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Robert Garcia of California, write in a letter Friday that while they appreciate the department's efforts to date, they want answers to a series of questions no later than March 1 "to allow oversight of the implementation of these crucial efforts." 

In their letter they ask for a series of updated figures, including how many veterans' cases have been proactively reviewed and recommended for an upgrade. They also want to know whether there are any budgetary or statutory limitations that may "affect the ability of the Department to complete the proactive review of records, or the ability to upgrade discharges to honorable status." 

A Defense Department official told CBS News in December that it has already begun the process of reviewing records of some 2,000 veterans for potential discharge upgrade eligibility. CBS News reported last year that the population of LGBTQ+ service members who were denied an honorable discharge numbers more than 29,000

The lawmakers also want to know how many veterans' discharge upgrade applications have been denied because of "aggravating factors" in their record — an issue that continues to concern advocates and veterans who say the military justice system was systematically weaponized against LGBTQ+ service members.  

CBS News' investigation found that beyond the statutes directly criminalizing homosexual activity, the military used a range of "cover charges" to drum gay men and women out of the service on the basis of their sexual orientation. Those with court martial convictions will not be included in the Pentagon's proactive review and there is no mechanism by which the Department of Defense can overturn a court martial conviction imposed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  

"Our service members made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was a policy that should have never existed in the first place, but we're unfortunately still feeling the repercussions of it to this day. Now, the Department of Defense has the responsibility to uplift LGBTQ+ veterans who were previously degraded because of their sexuality," Garcia said.

Read the full letter below:

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