Letter to Shinseki outlines areas of improvement Veterans Affairs Department should make to ensure equal treatment
(Washington, D.C.) On the eve of Veterans Day, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to undertake key changes necessary for improving assistance, support, and benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans. In a letter to Secretary Eric Shinseki, Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis outlined concerns that the Department is not prepared for the increasing number of openly LGBT veterans who have served the country and are now seeking assistance in the wake of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We are concerned that the Department has not fully prepared for these new circumstances, and this concern has been heightened by media reports of instances in which gay and lesbian veterans have been mistreated or disrespected by VA personnel,” Sarvis wrote in the letter.
Sarvis outlined the following areas for action by the Department:
- Issue a directive to all VA personnel making it clear that all veterans and their families are to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their sexual orientation.
- Include this subject matter in training of all new VA employees and in recurring training of existing employees.
- Ensure that all VA policies and publications are sexual-orientation neutral.
- Determine whether gay and lesbian veterans have needs that are distinct from those of straight veterans.
- Take steps to ensure that partners of gay and lesbian veterans have the same visitation rights as partners of straight veterans, similar to the recent HHS directive to protect hospital patients’ right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay.
Extend to legally married partners of gay and lesbian veterans the privileges and benefits available to the spouses of veterans, to the extent permitted by the Defense of Marriage Act.
“We are not advocating any special treatment for LGBT veterans or their families, but we want to underscore that all military families should be treated the same when it comes to recognition, benefits and family support,” said Sarvis.
To view the full text of the letter, click here.
ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America’s military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. Since 1993, our in-house legal team has responded to more than 11,000 requests for assistance. To learn more, click here.
SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100. SLDN’s Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service, may be found here.