Pappas Reintroduces Expanded SERVE Act to Guarantee VA Benefits for LGBTQ+ Veterans

September 3, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01), member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Co-Chair of the Equality Caucus, alongside Reps. Mike Levin (CA-49), Kathleen M. Rice (NY-04), Anthony Brown (MD-04), and Jackie Speier (CA-14), reintroduced the SERVE (Securing the Rights our Veterans Earned) Act to guarantee and protect VA benefits for LGBTQ+ veterans discharged from the Armed Forces due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation takes critical steps to ensure LGBTQ+ veterans who received an Other Than Honorable (OTH) or Entry-Level Separation (ELS) discharge solely due to their sexual orientation or gender identity are afforded the VA benefits they rightfully earned after serving their country. This includes veterans who were issued blue discharges during World War Two, and veterans discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the Trump Administration’s discriminatory ban on transgender servicemembers. The legislation has been endorsed by the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and is supported by more than 45 Members of the House, including House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano.

Many LGBTQ+ veterans who were discharged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity received OTH or ELS discharges, preventing access to VA health care and benefits such as education, burial and memorial services, and home loans. While there are processes in place for these veterans to have discharge papers and separation statuses reviewed and modified, it can take months for the changes to take effect, and many of these veterans do not even realize they are eligible. The legacy of the policy continues to carry serious implications for the physical and emotional health and well-being of LGBTQ+ veterans by jeopardizing their ability to access VA benefits. The SERVE Act of 2021 would fix this problem by allowing veterans who received an OTH or ELS discharge to be eligible for VA benefits, as long as their discharge was solely due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Veterans and their families deserve our thanks and gratitude for their service and sacrifice. However, a double standard continues to persist for LGBTQ+ servicemembers and veterans who suffered from government-sponsored discriminatory policies simply because of who they are. As we near the tenth anniversary of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it’s long past time that these veterans are afforded the benefits they’ve rightfully earned defending our country,” said Congressman Chris Pappas. “This disparity threatens the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ veterans who are unable to access VA benefits, and it dishonors their service to our country. This legislation will help correct this injustice by guaranteeing VA benefits for LGBTQ+ veterans and ensuring they’re able to receive the care they need.”

“No servicemember who bravely and honorably defends our nation should ever be denied benefits or discriminatorily discharged from the military simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Congressman Levin. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the SERVE Act to strengthen protections for our LBGTQ+ servicemembers and to ensure access to the benefits they earned. I’m committed to correcting injustices toward our LGBTQ+ servicemembers, and with this bill we can do just that.”

“No veteran who bravely served our nation should ever be denied access to the care they need because of who they are,” said Congresswoman Rice. “The SERVE Act ensures that any LGBTQ veteran who was discharged based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is granted the earned VA benefits they are entitled to.” 

“LGBTQ+ Americans have served our country with integrity since our founding. We owe every veteran a debt of gratitude and we must keep our sacred promise to look after them and their families for their service to our country. For far too long, LGBTQ+ servicemembers experienced discrimination, harassment, lost opportunities and violence because of their identity,” said Congressman Brown. “It’s time we make this right by guaranteeing VA benefits for veterans unacceptably removed from service for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s how we move forward from the shameful mistakes of the past and ensure every American, no matter who they are or who they love, can serve their country freely.”

“LGBTQ+ individuals who lay their lives on the line in serving our country make the same sacrifices as every other servicemember. They deserve the same level and quality of care for injuries and other health issues stemming from their service,” said Congresswoman Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “We must never allow our LGBTQ+ veterans to be denied the health care and support that they have earned and deserve for any reason, whether it’s the bias and bigotry of the previous administration or the lingering aftereffects of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ years. This bill ensures that we never repeat these egregious actions, no matter who is in Congress or the White House.”

“LGBTQ+ veterans continue to face unnecessary hurdles in accessing benefits that ought to be provided equally to all who served. Those who were discharged solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity have already faced terrible consequences rooted in discrimination,” said Congressman Cicilline, Chair of the Equality Caucus. “That’s why I am proud to stand by my colleague and Equality Caucus Co-Chair Chris Pappas as he introduces the SERVE Act. This bill would ensure that LGBTQ+ veterans have access to a wide range of services designed to assist those who have served our country. This bill is an important step forward in our goal of achieving full equality for the LGBTQ+ community and it has my full endorsement as well as the support of the Equality Caucus.”

The SERVE Act is supported by the Minority Veterans of America, the Modern Military Association of America, Equality California, For All Vets, Forge VFR, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality/NCTE Action Fund, Student Veterans of America, Secure Families Initiative, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Cohen Veterans Network, and PFLAG National. 

“For decades, the selfless service of our nation’s LGBTQ veterans has been diminished by inequitable treatment, rooted in discriminatory regulations. A large majority of the LGBTQ-identifying veterans that received bad paper discharges would not have received the same characterization had they identified as cisgender and heterosexual,” said Andy Blevins, Operations & Policy Director for the Minority Veterans of America. “With open and authentic service now the law of the land, we must update these prejudiced frameworks to ensure that our community is able to receive the necessary services and benefits that they have rightfully earned. We applaud Congressman Pappas and the sponsors of this Bill for their dedication to righting historic wrongs and advocating for our most marginalized and underserved populations.”

“As the Nation’s oldest and largest non-profit supporting LGBTQ+ service members and veterans, we fully endorse the SERVE Act and applaud this long overdue step toward restoring honor to the more than 114,000 service members who were discharged under discriminatory service bans and policies such as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Jennifer Dane, Executive Director, Modern Military Association of America. “LGBTQ+ members have served honorably since the creation of our American military forces and yet too many were stripped of their careers and subsequent VA benefits they deserved simply for who they are or who they love. The SERVE Act provides an opportunity for our government to acknowledge the long-term impacts of discrimination and finally take steps to honor the service and sacrifice of those effected by it."

"We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all the heroes who have served our country in uniform. They deserve not just our thanks, but the care and benefits they earned defending our nation," said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President, Policy & Political Affairs. “Decades of systemic anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination within the military have left veterans who faced discharge for who they loved or who they are without access to the education, housing and healthcare benefits they rightly deserve. From a full ban on LGBTQ+ service, to the wide-reaching impact of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the recent trans ban, thousands of brave service members received an other than honorable discharge. While these harmful policies have been retired, their hurtful legacy remains. The SERVE Act is a step toward correcting the harms of prejudicial policies that the Human Rights Campaign has worked to undo, and we are proud to support its introduction in the House today."

“Veterans and active duty servicemembers alike are promised certain recognition and benefits in exchange for their service,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality/NCTE Action Fund. “The continued denial of these benefits for some veterans based solely on their gender identity breaks the promises the United States made to its service members - that they will be cared for both during and after their service obligation. The SERVE Act is one step toward equality and fair treatment for all who serve."

"The SERVE Act is landmark legislation that would make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of LGBTQIA+ veterans,” said Pablo Hernandez, President, For All Vets. “By securing VA health care, education, burial, memorial, and home loan benefits for these veterans, we will not only begin to correct the historical wrongs of the past; but also make a huge tangible difference in the day-to-day lives of these individuals who served our nation so valiantly."