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Discharged Gay and Lesbian Veterans Win $2.4M Class Action Back Pay Settlement

If you were involuntarily but honorably discharged from the military for homosexuality, and you had at least six years of service prior to discharge, you may have thousands of dollars coming your way.

Prior to the repeal of the ban on homosexuals from openly serving in the military, it was Department of Defense policy to cut separation pay in half for those who were discharged for homosexuality. However, because it was a DoD directive, and not a Congressional statute, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 181 discharged gay and lesbian veterans.

The lead plaintiff was Richard Collins, a 9-year Air Force veteran and staff sergeant, who was spotted kissing his boyfriend while in a car at a traffic intersection off base, and reported to Air Force officials. He was subsequently discharged, and only then discovered that DoD policy cut separation pay in half for those discharged for homosexuality. The policy cost Collins more than $12,000. He then approached the ACLU about representing him in an unlawful discrimination lawsuit against the government to recover the money. The ACLU took the case.

The policy provided that those discharged for homosexuality was part of a larger policy directive dating back to 1991. The directive established that honorable or general discharges for homosexuality would warrant the same reduced separation pay as discharges for drug rehabilitation failure, “convenience of the government,” or security breaches.

The Department of Defense defended against the lawsuit, arguing that military policy and regulation should be under the exclusive purview of the Secretary of Defense, but eventually reached a settlement in the case, Richard Collins v. United States.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Department of Defense will provide restitution for all those involuntarily discharged for homosexuality after November 10, 2004, which is as far back as the statute of limitations will allow. The Department of Defense estimates the total amount owed to all affected servicemembers participating in the suit to be $2.4 million.

You do not qualify, however, if you received a discharge that was other than honorable, if you did not have at least six years of service prior to separation, or if your discharge was prior to September 10, 2004.

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