Oregon lawmakers vote to aid gay veterans

By : Wire Report
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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers gave an assist to gay veterans in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.

If Gov. Kate Brown signs off on the bills approved July 6, Oregon would be the first state to hire a coordinator to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans upgrade a less-than-honorable discharge received because of their sexual orientation.

A new LGBT coordinator at the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs would help gay veterans apply for a change in their discharge status. An honorable discharge is generally required to qualify for many state and federal veterans benefits, including those of the G.I. Bill. Gays and lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the military until 2011.

Advocates say veterans have a disproportionate number of discharge appeals pending.

“I have personally served with folks who were discharged because of their orientation,” said Rep. Paul Evans, a Democrat from Monmouth and retired Air Force major. “Only two things really matter: Are they serving as well as they possibly can? And are they doing everything they can while they’re there to make a better and stronger society?” he added.

Basic Rights Oregon, a nonprofit gay and transgender advocacy group based in Portland, said in submitted testimony that veterans were dismissed under the 1993 federal law Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which allowed gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. But veterans have also been discharged because of the sexual preferences dating back to World War II, the group said, and all often need help navigating the red tape to get their discharge status changed.

Those critical of the measure said it shouldn’t serve just a portion of the veteran population when all service members are in need of support. Rep. Mike McLane an Oregon Air National Guard officer and staff judge advocate, said veterans can be discharged for a whole range of reasons, stretching from smoking marijuana to adultery. There have been veterans discharged for behavior permissible in the civilian populace but not in the military, he added.

“Let’s do it for all the veterans who have been discharged based upon a code of justice that we now look back and say it’s wrong,” said McLane, a Powell Butte Republican. “By opening the door and choosing one group, we are in essence using public funding to favor one class of veterans over another class of veterans.”

Brown, a Democrat who is the nation’s first bisexual governor, does not weigh in on legislation before she signs it.

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