Reps. Pappas, Kennedy, Speier, Cisneros, and Brown introduce SERVE Act to guarantee protections for veterans discharged under transgender military ban

May 22, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today Representative Chris Pappas (NH-01), Joe Kennedy III (MA-04), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Gil Cisneros (CA-39), and Anthony Brown (MD-04) introduced the SERVE (Securing the Rights our Veterans have Earned) Act of 2019 to guarantee protections for our nation’s active duty transgender service members discharged from the Armed Forces under the Trump Administration’s discriminatory transgender ban. This legislation takes critical steps to protect the physical and emotional health of these veterans by ensuring they are not denied VA healthcare benefits if they receive an Other Than Honorable (OTH) or Entry-Level Separation (ELS) discharge because of their gender identity. It also guarantees VA healthcare coverage for any veteran discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who has not yet requested to have their discharge papers corrected. Kathleen Rice (NY-04) and Mike Levin (CA-49) are also original co-sponsors of the bill.

“As we work to improve care for veterans and combat the national crisis of veteran suicide, we cannot forget the more than 15,000 transgender service members and veterans whose benefits may be at risk because of this Administration’s discriminatory transgender ban and those left behind by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in years past.” said Congressman Pappas. “As we fight to reverse this Administration’s backwards ban, I am proud to introduce legislation that will help protect our LGBTQ veterans and ensure they are able to access the care they need. It’s the least we can do given their selfless service to our country.”

“The bias and bigotry of this President should not be used to deny health care to any LGBTQ veteran who has served this nation,” said Congressman Kennedy. “By passing the SERVE Act, we will protect transgender veterans until the day we overturn this cruel, misguided ban on transgender troops.”

“LGBTQ individuals in the military show the same bravery and make the same sacrifices as every other servicemember,” said Congresswoman Speier. “When they seek care for their injuries and other health issues stemming from their service, they deserve the same level and quality of care.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill to protect access to VA benefits for our transgender veterans,” said Congressman Cisneros. “I served in the Navy, during the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and too many were forced to live their lives in secret. With this bill, we can further correct injustices toward our LGBTQ service members and ensure our veterans have the benefits they have earned and deserve when they transition to civilian life.”

“No member of the Armed Forces should be forced out of service because of who they are, and their identity must not be used as pretext for denying them the care they have earned – the care every veteran is entitled to,” said Congressman Brown. “As Congress continues to fight the Trump administration’s bigoted transgender troop ban, we will also take every step to protect transgender veterans from further discrimination. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on these common-sense protections.”

The SERVE Act has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Modern Military Association of America, Equality California, Lambda Legal, National Center for Transgender Equality, Minority Veterans of America, and VFR Healthcare.

"Those who have courageously served our nation in uniform should never have to worry about receiving the benefits to which they're entitled for their service,” said David Stacy, Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director. “No LGBTQ veteran who has been discharged based on their sexual orientation or gender identity should be denied the VA benefits they deserve. We thank Congressman Pappas and his colleagues for introducing this critical legislation to ensure LGBTQ veterans and their families are not left behind."   

“The ACLU is committed to challenging the Trump administration’s discriminatory and unconstitutional transgender military ban on all fronts,” said Ian Thompson, ACLU’s Senior Legislative Representative. “No one whose military career is upended as a result of this shameful policy should have that harm compounded through the loss of their VA healthcare benefits. This new legislation will help to ensure that no LGBTQ veteran is ever denied the benefits they earned as a result of their own government’s discrimination against them simply because of who they are.”

“There is no reason why someone who is willing and otherwise qualified to serve this country should be denied the opportunity to do so based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Sharon McGowan, Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Lambda Legal. “Unfortunately, far too many LGBT people have had their military careers cut short simply because of who they are and, as a result, have been denied access to the life-saving health care benefits that former service members normally enjoy once they return to civilian life.  As we continue our fight against this administration’s discriminatory ban targeting transgender people who wish to serve their country, we thank Congressman Pappas for introducing legislation that seeks to mitigate some of the harm that LGBT service members suffer because of discriminatory government policies.”

“Thousands of transgender troops continue to serve our nation under this hateful ban, and tens of thousands more have served with honor and dignity. Transgender veterans have already faced this President’s disgraceful policy, and it would be an immorality to deny them the health care every veteran deserves,” said Mara Keisling, Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “We thank Rep. Pappas for taking this crucial step to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs does not deny our country the opportunity to thank transgender veterans with the benefits they have earned.”

"Further punishing brave LGBTQ Americans who have served our country with honor and dignity by denying them healthcare is just plain cruel," said Rick Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California, the organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit Stockman v. Trump challenging President Trump's transgender military ban. "As we fight to overturn the president's discriminatory transgender military ban, we must also take every step possible to protect these patriotic Americans' access to quality healthcare. Equality California is proud to stand with Congressman Pappas as he fights to do so."

"Thousands of our nation's veterans are currently barred from receiving due benefits because of inappropriate discharges anchored in their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity," said Andy Blevins, Executive Director of the Modern Military Association of America. "Introduction of this Act signals to our nation's LGBTQ veteran community that our nation's Congressional leadership stands alongside them and their honorable service. We applaud Congressman Pappas and the cohort of leaders that signed on to co-sponsor this tremendous piece of legislation; we look forward to working alongside each of them as we solidify equitable treatment and conditions for all of our nation's deserving veterans."

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