Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Pentagon sees no need for gay discharged troops bill

Pentagon, military, gay news, Washington Blade

The Pentagon sees no need for legislation for troops discharged for being gay (Public domain photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond).

The Pentagon sees no need for new legislation to enable gay troops to remove the distinction of “dishonorable” from their discharge papers if they were expelled from the U.S. military because of their sexual orientation.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administrative process in place for upgrading paperwork is sufficient to ensure troops dismissed for being gay during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”-era and before have honorable discharges.

“We continue to closely monitor the workload of the Boards, which indicate that DADT-related applications are being processed effectively, under clear procedures, and that no new policy guidance or legislation is required at this time,” Christensen said.

Asked whether that statement means the Pentagon opposes legislation to codify the process known as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, Christensen said the Pentagon doesn’t comment on pending legislation as a matter of policy.

Late last month, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate along with 17 Democratic co-sponsors. Companion legislation sponsored by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) was already pending in the U.S. House and has more than 140 co-sponsors.

An estimated 114,000 troops were discharged from the armed forces for being gay starting in World War II until the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011.

Although many service members were given an “honorable” discharge from the military if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation, others were given “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable” discharge.

By having designation other than “honorable” on their papers, former troops may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits, such as GI bill tuition assistance and veterans’ health care, and may not be able to claim veteran status. In some cases, they may be prevented from voting or have difficulty acquiring civilian employment.

Meaghan Smith, a Schatz spokesperson, said the senator appreciates the Pentagon’s work on the issue, but service members seeking upgrades had complained the process wasn’t working fast enough.

“Based on direct input from veterans groups that went into the drafting of the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, the existing process is overly burdensome on the veteran, and more can be done to simplify the process as well as to protect veterans’ privacy,” Smith said.

The Restore Honor to Service Members Act aims to adjust the process for upgrading paperwork by codifying it, simplifying the paperwork requirement and requiring military services historians to review the facts and circumstances surrounding these discharges.

“Put simply, who is to say that a future administration may not decide that those reviews are beyond the scope of those discharge and military records boards?” Smith said. “This bill would make those reviews specifically within their scope of inquiry, ensuring that that process always remains available to these service members to seek corrective action.”

Pocan’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

The legislation has the support of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Veterans for Equal Rights and Service Women’s Action Network and Equality Hawaii.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, reiterated his organization’s support for the bill when asked about the Pentagon’s view that the existing process is sufficient.

Walking through the existing process, Christensen insisted the Pentagon enacted a “robust and responsive” policy in 2011 to ensure troops discharged because of their sexual orientation can receive upgrades through the Military Department Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) or the Military Department’s Discharge Review Board.

“The resulting Department-wide policy and Service Review Board procedures ensure equitable and consistent review of all cases related to DADT,” Christensen said. “Presently, members discharged under DADT may request a correction to their military records from either their Military Department DRB or their BCM/NR based upon these implemented changes in law and policy.”

Military department DRBs are responsible for reviewing cases within the last 15 years and change discharge characterization from “Homosexual Conduct” to “Secretarial Authority.” If an applicant is not satisfied with DRB decision, or needs additional relief, he or she may appeal to the BCM/NR, which also reviews cases 15 years or older, or those that fall outside the scope of the DRBs.

By law, the BCM/NRs speak for the military service as final authority on the decision, but if applicants still are not satisfied, they may write their service secretary for intervention or file suit in federal civil court.

Upon the introduction of the House bill in July 2013, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), one of the legislation’s co-sponsors, said during a conference call with Pocan he wants the White House and the Pentagon to support the legislation. The White House hasn’t responded to numerous requests for comment about the bill.

10
Feb
2014

Hagel may attend Pride event at Pentagon

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend a Pentagon Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.

On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.

“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”

Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Hagel has expressed an interest in attending the event.

It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.

Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.

Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.

As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Still, over the course of the nomination process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits for troops with same-sex partners available under current law.

DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.

“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.

That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.

“Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction – and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”

04
Jun
2013

House panel adopts ‘conscience’ amendment to defense bill

United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

A House panel approved an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay colleagues. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A House panel on Wednesday approved as part of major defense legislation an amendment that would make it easier for troops to harass their gay comrades without fear of reprisal.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), was approved by the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee by a vote of 33-26 as part of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill.

Fleming’s measure would expand the “conscience provision” in that already exists in defense law. It puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an “actual harm” to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation for them.

Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the defense secretary consults with “official military faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.”

President Obama signed the existing “conscience provision” under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”

The Blade will provide a roll call vote soon.

The full language of the amendment follows:

SEC. 5 EXPANSION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND CHAPLAINS OF SUCH MEMBERS

(a) ACCOMMODATION OF MEMBERS’ BELIEFS, ACTIONS, AJ’\JD SPEECH.-Subsection (a)(1) of section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239; 126 Stat. 1727; 10 U.S.C. prec. 1030 note) is amended -

(1) by striking “The Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs” and inserting “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech”; and

(2) by inserting ”, actions, or speech” after ”such beliefs”.

(b) NARROW EXCEPTION.-Subsection (a)(2) of this section is amended by striking ”that threaten” and inserting ”that actually harm”.

(c) DEADLINE FOR REGULATIONS; CONSULTATION.-The implementation regulations required by subsection (c) of such section shall be issued not later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act. In preparing such regulations, the Secretary of Defense shall consult with the official military faith-group representatives who endorse military chaplains.

05
Jun
2013

Gay firefighter, first responder to Pentagon on 9/11, dies

Phillip Curtis McKee, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Phillip Curtis McKee III was a first responder to the first at the Pentagon on 9/11. (courtesy photo)

Phillip Curtis McKee III, a businessman, stained glass artist and firefighter who was among the first to respond to the fire at the Pentagon caused by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, died May 31 at a hospital in Fairfax City, Va. He was 41.

Family members attribute McKee’s death to complications from injuries and illness linked to three days of fighting the Pentagon fire following the 9/11 attack, including inhalation of toxic dust, a severe leg injury that resulted in him being wheel chair bound, and a prolonged bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

McKee’s husband and partner of 15 years, Nopadon McKee, said the injuries forced Phillip McKee to retire from his job as a firefighter due to disability. Although he displayed “tremendous courage” in persevering as an artist, businessman, and author over the next 12 years, the injuries and his struggle with PTSD took its toll, Nopadon McKee said.

“He succumbed to his injuries,” a statement released by the family says.

Phillip McKee was born in Portsmouth, Va., and lived in his early years in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and San Antonio, Texas. He did undergraduate studies at Yale University and graduate studies at Harvard University in Medieval history as well as economic and diplomatic history, and held a fellowship at Princeton University, a biographical statement prepared by family members says.

At the time of his university studies he became interested in the medium of stained glass and eventually became a stained glass artist and owner of a small business selling stained glass artwork, including his own.

Sandra Martinez, McKee’s aunt, said McKee entered a Catholic seminary for a short period of time after completing his university studies before moving to Washington, D.C. to work in the field of computer and internet security with the National Fraud Information Center.

While working in this position he founded Capitol Web Services in 1998 as a part-time web-based business.

According to Martinez, McKee, who had been serving as a volunteer fireman in the Maryland suburbs, informed his family in early 2001 that he decided to change his career and become a firefighter with the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department about six months prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“[A]after all of that education, I chose to become a firefighter,” McKee wrote in a message appearing on his business website McKeestaindedglass.com.

“Needless to say, this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by my family,” he wrote. “However, a firefighter’s work schedule gave me the free time I needed and I was able to pursue my other passion – glass art!” he wrote.

“Since 9-11, stained glass has become an even greater part of my life as I went through rehabilitation for injuries suffered at the Pentagon,” he said in his website message. “Glass has provided me with a creative outlet that I have sorely needed during this most difficult time in my life and in the life of our country.”

He went on to publish two books on stained glass art, including the acclaimed “Make It or Break It: Stained Glass For Beginners.”

A biographical statement prepared by Nopadon McKee and Martinez says Phillip and Nopadon have been a couple since 1998 and were joined in a religious wedding ceremony in 2006 at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale, Va.

Nopadon McKee said the two proudly proclaimed their marriage to friends, family members and co-workers even though it is not legally recognized by the government.

In 2009, in spite of his disability and ailments, Phillip and Nopadon began mentoring a teenager they met that year and later adopted. Nate McKee is currently a college student, the biographical statement says.

“Phillip touched many lives throughout his forty years and will be remembered for many great accomplishments, but the most outstanding was his unselfish and brave act on 9-11,” the statement says.

Nopadon McKee, a Metro transit police officer who legally changed his name to McKee after he and Phillip McKee married, said he and Phillip have long been out as gay men at their jobs. He said Phillip McKee was out while working for the Arlington County Fire Department.

The Fire Department and some of its members are expected to participate in a funeral tribute for Phillip McKee scheduled for June 11 that will begin at the fire station in the Cherrydale section of Arlington to which McKee had been assigned at the time of the 9-11 attack at the Pentagon, Martinez said. The service itself is scheduled to take place at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale at 11 a.m.

A wake and viewing is scheduled to be held Sunday, June 9, at the same church from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

07
Jun
2013

Hagel to speak at Pentagon Pride event set for June 25

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is confirmed to attend a Pentagon Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is confirmed to make an appearance at an upcoming Pentagon event observing June as the month for Pride, which has been set for June 25, alongside Senior Adviser to President Valerie Jarrett, the Washington Blade has learned.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little confirmed in a statement provided via email to the Washington Blade that Hagel would participate in the event, making him the first defense secretary to take part in a Pentagon Pride celebration. A defense official said Hagel would provide opening remarks to the group in person.

“Secretary Hagel looks forward to participating in this year’s DoD Pride event at the Pentagon on Tuesday June 25, which is organized by a group of Defense Department service members and civilians to celebrate LGBT Pride Month,” Little said.

Emphasizing Hagel’s support for gay and lesbian service members — who have been able to serve openly since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — Little recalled the West Point address that Hagel delivered at the U.S. military academy at West Point on May 25. During his speech, the secretary said, ”The United States military has long benefited from the service of gay men and lesbians. Now they serve openly with full honor, integrity, and respect.”

“Secretary Hagel believes that the open service of gays and lesbians make our armed forces stronger and that this month’s DOD Pride event is just one way we honor what these service members and LGBT civilians do for our country,” Little added.

Additionally, Little said Jarrett will join Hagel on stage to represent the White House and deliver the keynote address on behalf of President Obama.

“Secretary Hagel is also looking forward to welcoming Valerie Jarrett to the Pentagon who will represent President Obama in delivering the keynote address at the event,” Little said.

The occasion will be the second Pride celebration at the Pentagon following “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but the first in which a sitting defense secretary will make a live appearance. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the group via a video message. A defense official said the Pride event is being organized by a “resource group” with the support of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Hagel’s participation is noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary.

Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark when these remarks surfaced, and Hormel eventually endorsed Hagel’s nomination.

As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Still, over the course of the confirmation process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits available under current law for troops with same-sex partners.

17
Jun
2013

Pentagon announces implementation of spousal benefits for gay troops

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made final the implementation of troop benefits in a recent memo (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday the implementation of spousal benefits for gay service members following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act — and plans to make these benefits available as soon as Sept. 3.

In a memo dated August 13, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced service members in same-sex marriages will receive the same benefits for their spouses delegated to U.S. troops in opposite-sex marriages, and designated Sept. 3 as the a target date for implementation. These benefits includes health and pension benefits that were previously unavailable under DOMA as well as housing benefits, which the Pentagon had previously withheld.

“It is now the department’s policy to treat all married military personnel equally,” Hagel writes. “The department will construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.”

The memo follows up on Hagel’s announcement at the end of June immediately following the Supreme Court decision against DOMA that the Pentagon would work to implement these benefits. Additionally, the memo culminates the effort announced in February to implement to provide benefits to gay troops that were available even under that law, such as military IDs and access to family services.

The document is along the lines of what the Associated Press reported last week that the Pentagon was preparing to make final for the implementation of benefits for gay troops.

As such, the memo retracts a previous pledge to allow troops in domestic partnerships to have certain benefits. Instead, it offers gay troops stationed in places without marriage equality leave to travel to another state to marry. The memo says the Pentagon will recognize same-sex marriages of service members even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the Department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” Hagel writes.

In a supplemental memo dated Aug. 13 also made public on Wednesday, Acting Under Secretary of Defense of Personnel & Readiness Jessica Wright lays out additional details for the rules governing gay troops seeking spousal benefits, citing the need for technical changes in current policy.

“Extension of benefits to same-sex spouses will require some policy revisions, and in the case of identification cards, technical upgrades as the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System currently does not authorize the issuance of an identification card to a spouse of the same gender,” Wright writes.

The Washington Blade reported last week that gay service members were unable to enroll for benefits through the DEERS because it’s set up in a way that only facilitates opposite-sex marriages.

Wright also details the leave process for service members in same-sex relationships who are seeking to marry, saying non-chargeable leave will be granted for troops who are more than 100 miles away from a U.S. jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal.

According to the memo, if the service member is the stationed within the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant non-chargeable leave for a period of up to seven days. For a service members stationed outside the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant a leave period of up to 10 days.

“Extensions of this non-chargeable leave period for the convenience of the service member(s) will be charged to the member’s leave account,” Wright concludes. “Marriage leave may be granted only once during the career of a service member.”

Wright says troops will be entitled to these benefits retroactively to the date of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA on June 26, but claims to entitlement before that time “will not be granted.”

Praise for the implementation of these benefits came from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.,) a U.S. House member who has been vocal about providing them to gay service members.

“I am especially pleased that military personnel  based  in those states where same-sex marriage remains illegal will be offered leave to travel to a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage, and I look forward to the day when such travel is no longer necessary,” Schiff said. “Our military men and women sacrifice every day to defend freedom and equality around the world. The least we can do is make sure they enjoy that equality here at home.”

Expectations that the Pentagon would announce on Wednesday it the implementation of these benefits for troops with same-sex partners was first reported Tuesday evening by NBC News.

Stephen Peters, president of the LGBT military group known as the American Military Partners Association, responded to the NBC News report by praising the move as “a huge step forward.”

“The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support,” Peters said. ”While this is a huge step forward in making sure our same-sex military spouses have equal access, we still have a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states.”

Not explicitly addressed in the memo is whether gay veterans would also have the same access to spousal benefits as their straight counterparts. Title 38 under U.S. code, which governs veterans benefits, defines spouse in opposite-sex terms independently of DOMA and related statutes look to the state of residence as opposed to the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married. To extent to which gay U.S. troops will be eligible for veteran spousal benefits in the aftermath of DOMA is still unclear.

14
Aug
2013

Military dragging feet on SecDef’s order giving gay troops leave to marry

One commander refused to obey the Secretary of Defense's order, telling a lieutenant to use her vacation time.

.
02
Oct
2013

Hagel to direct nat’l guards to offer same-sex benefits

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is directing national guard to process benefits applications for troops in same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Thursday evening that he’s directing national guards throughout the country to process benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages regardless of their state laws.

Hagel made the announcement during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City.

In his speech, the defense secretary spoke out against the decision by certain national guards to deny benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, referencing the directive he issued in August indicating spousal benefits for gay troops should be available worldwide after the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”

Hagel said he’s directed the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass “to take immediate action” to remedy this situation.

“At my direction, he will meet with the Adjutants General from the states where these ID cards are being declined and denied,” Hagel said. “The Adjutants General will be expected to comply with both lawful direction and DoD policy, in line with the practices of 45 other states and jurisdictions.”

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, counted nine states with national guards that are refusing to process benefit spousal applications for gay troops and said Hagel is “prepared to take further action” if these states don’t comply with Pentagon policy.

Asked by the Washington Blade what this “further action” would be, the senior defense action declined to speculate, but noted military ID cards are processed through federal funds.

“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “I’m not going to speculate on our legal options.”

Actions that advocates had previously posited include a restriction of federal funds at these facilities or, in an extreme case, the federalization of these national guards by President Obama.

The Washington Blade has previously reported that Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma are refusing to enter the spouses of gay troops into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System for the purposes of benefits, which include health and pension benefits, because of their state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve directed troops in same-sex marriages to federal installations.

The national guard in South Carolina had opted out of processing benefit applications altogether and is directing all couples — gay and straight — to go to federal installations.

But the senior defense official also counted Indiana, Georgia, Florida and West Virginia as having made similar declarations, making for a total of nine states. According to the senior defense official, that means 114 Army and Air National Guard sites that are not providing ID cards to eligible same-sex spouses.

Advocates had been pressuring the Obama administration to take action. In a letter earlier this month, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top defense Democrats in Congress, wrote to Hagel to encourage him to take action.

Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association, heaped praised on Hagel for taking action against these national guards that weren’t complying with Pentagon policy.

“Secretary Hagel has made it clear the national guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” Peters said. ”We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the national guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy. No matter what state of our great nation they serve in, no military spouse should be treated differently just because of their orientation.”

Hagel said in his speech that all members of the national guard are entitled to the same benefits because they’re fighting for the same purpose.

“Whether they are responding to natural disasters here at home, in their states, or fighting in Afghanistan, our National Guardsmen all wear the uniform of the United States of America,” Hagel said. “They are serving this country. They – and their families – are entitled to all the benefits and respect accorded to all of our military men and women.”

01
Nov
2013

Georgia Nat’l Guard to process same-sex benefits

Georgia National Guard, gay news, Washington Blade, benefits

The Georgia National Guard has agreed to process same-sex benefits (Image public domain).

The Georgia National Guard has become the latest state to agree to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to two sources familiar with the decision.

Maj. Jon Craig, a National Guard Bureau spokesperson, said Georgia had agreed to process applications to grant same-sex spouses military IDs last week in a decision along the lines of Texas and Louisiana.

“With Georgia, what it came down to was the authorization to put some state employees on temporary federal status,” Craig said.

Georgia had been one of two remaining states that had refused to enroll the spouses of gay troops into the benefit system in the aftermath of an edict for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying military spousal benefits should be available to troops in same-sex marriages nationwide. These states had cited state constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage as the reasons why they couldn’t comply.

In the past weeks, Texas and Louisiana, which had previously refused to process same-sex benefits, said they had come to agreement to comply with the edict by processing applications through federal funds, personnel and systems.

Lt. Col. Thomas Lesnieski, a Georgia National Guard spokesperson, acknowledged changes were made, but declined to comment further until the guard issued an official statement later on Monday.

Chris Rowzee, a spokesperson for the American Military Partners Association, commended Georgia’s decision, but questioned what exactly had changed because her understanding is federal resources were already being used to process benefits applications at National Guard facilities.

“Certainly, we are pleased that they have changed course and are now providing the federal benefits to which these military members are entitled,” Rowzee said. “We still have questions regarding what has actually changed since all of the personnel processing those benefits were federal employees to begin with.”

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said Georgia had agreed to comply and the Pentagon views the decision as “welcome news.”

The official added the decision leaves Mississippi as the only state that isn’t conforming to federal policy, saying National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass continues work on the issue.

“The Secretary has directed General Grass to resolve this issue with the TAGs,” the official said. “Gen. Grass, and the National Guard Bureau are continuing the dialogue with Mississippi — the only remaining state to comply with DOD Policy.”

A Mississippi National Guard spokesperson deferred comment on whether the state would come into compliance Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, which didn’t respond to multiple requests to comment.

09
Dec
2013

All nat’l guards now compliant with Hagel edict on same-sex benefits

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

All state national guards a are complying with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to process benefits applications for troops in same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

All state national guards are now compliant with an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requiring them to processing spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, according to the Pentagon.

In a statement provided to the Washington Blade, Hagel confirmed that all gay service members can apply for military IDs for their spouses at military installations throughout the country.

“Following consultations between the National Guard Bureau and the Adjutants General of the states, all eligible service members, dependents and retirees — including same-sex spouses — are now able to obtain ID cards in every state,” Hagel said.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mississippi, the last remaining hold-out state, came on board sometime this week, although the official didn’t have an exact date for when that happened. The official said Mississippi is adopting a policy similar to Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, which are placing state workers on federal status to process same-sex benefit applications.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Hagel announced military spousal benefits — including health, pension and housing benefits — will become available to gay troops.

However, certain state national guards, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi, refused to process the spousal benefits applications from gay troops, citing state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. During an Anti-Defamation League meeting in October, said each of these states must comply and he directed National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Frank Grass to find a way to bring them on board.

One by one, the state national guards announced they would comply with the policy. Texas Military Forces, which had been the first state to announce it wouldn’t process the benefits, announced last month it would come on board. Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi later followed suit.

“All military spouses and families sacrifice on behalf of our country,” Hagel concluded. “They deserve our respect and the benefits they are entitled to under the law. All of DoD is committed to pursuing equal opportunities for all who serve this nation, and I will continue to work to ensure our men and women in uniform as well as their families have full and equal access to the benefits they deserve.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization helped in the effort to encourage state national guards to process same-sex benefits by writing letters to the Pentagon as well as governors in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.

“In the end, it’s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who deserves credit for taking decisive action,” Sainz said. “Hagel delivered a speech in late October in which he demanded that these state national guard outposts heed federal law and Department of Defense policy or risk punitive action. That demand has now produced results all across the country.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, noted his organization petitioned Hagel to ensure these states comply with federal policy and called the latest news a welcome development.

“This is a welcome announcement, and one that Secretary Hagel deserves credit for making happen,” Thompson said. “The resistance on the part of some governors on extending these benefits to same-sex couples was a grossly unfair violation of federal law that  turned the promise of equal treatment for all military personnel on its head.”

Although all states are now considered compliant, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina are conforming to the Hagel edict by directing all spousal benefit applicants — gay and straight — away from state-run installations to federal facilities within those states to avoid conflict between state law and federal policy. These states moved all their ID card machines to federal installations, so they’re still processing benefits at full capacity.

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, commended Hagel for ensuring each state national guard is compliant with his edict on same-sex benefits, but said additional action is necessary.

“We applaud the administration and Secretary Hagel for seeing this issue through and ensuring all state national guards are compliant,” Peter said. ”However, our military families serving in non-marriage equality states still face discouraging challenges because of the discrimination and exclusion by state governments. We look forward to the day when our military families are treated equally in all 50 states of our nation.”

13
Dec
2013