Cuomo: "Countless service members were discharged from the military simply because of who they are. Adding insult to injury, they were then denied the services and benefits they earned as members of our armed forces who fought to protect our country and defend our ideals. With this measure we are righting that wrong and sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours."
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.45B/A.8097) enacting The Restoration of Honor Act, giving LGBTQ veterans who were denied an honorable discharge because of their sexual orientation or gender identity the right to apply to have their New York State veterans' benefits restored. Under Don't Ask Don't Tell and similar policies hundreds of thousands of veterans received less than honorable discharges. As a result of that those individuals are ineligible for veterans' benefits. While military discharge decisions can only be formally changed by the federal government, The Restoration of Honor Act allows these veterans to apply to claim their New York State benefits.
"Countless service members were discharged from the military simply because of who they are. Adding insult to injury, they were then denied the services and benefits they earned as members of our armed forces who fought to protect our country and defend our ideals," Governor Cuomo said. "With this measure we are righting that wrong and sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours."
The bill also restores benefits eligibility for veterans who received less than honorable discharges as a result of military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder. This makes New York the first state in the nation to restore the benefits of veterans who received less than honorable discharges either because of these traumas or because of their LGBTQ identity.
Senator Brad Hoylman said, "According to a study my office conducted in 2015, there are more than 50 New York State benefits denied to LGBTQ veterans who were less than honorably discharged on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Even as gay and lesbian Americans have been able to openly serve in the military for nearly a decade, generations of LGBTQ Americans are still unable to access many veterans' benefits due to the status of their military discharge. We are finally addressing this injustice by passing the Restoration of Honor Act, thanks to a new Senate majority led by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that stands resolutely in favor of LGBTQ rights. I'm grateful to my co-sponsor Assembly Member Didi Barrett for her work with me to pass this bill, to Assembly Member Buchwald for his years of advocacy for this legislation, to LGBT rights groups like SAGE which have been fighting for our community for decades, and to Governor Cuomo for signing it into law today."
Assembly Member Didi Barrett said, "The brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms are owed nothing but respect and support when they return home. Yet sadly, this has not been the case for too many of our veterans in the LGBTQ community, those suffering from trauma, and those struggling with mental and behavioral health disorders. 'Bad papers' shouldn't prevent service men and women from accessing the benefits and resources they've earned when they return home. With the enacted Restoration of Honor Act, we can finally put this immoral practice to an end. I thank the governor for signing this groundbreaking legislation and helping us right this terrible wrong."
Today's bill signing is the latest step in Governor Cuomo's commitment to further protections and equality for New York's LGBTQ community. Last month, New York became the first state in the country requiring all of its veterans' services staff to be certified in LGBTQ and HIV+ competency training. All Division of Veterans' Services staff in the state must receive the MMAA Rainbow Shield cultural competency training, designed to help educate and empower providers and advocates who serve the LGBTQ and HIV+ military and veteran community. This past August, the Governor announced multi-agency opposition to the federal government's proposed rollback of healthcare protections for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, with the New York State Department of Financial Services, Division of Human Rights and the Office of Children and Family Services calling on the federal government to abandon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposal that would undermine discrimination protections for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals and limit the types of insurance that must comply with the Affordable Care Act's nondiscrimination protections. In June, Governor Cuomo signed legislation banning the use of the "gay and trans panic" defense in criminal proceedings. In April, as the federal government's transgender military ban took effect, the Governor directed the Division of Veterans' Services, the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, and the Division of Human Rights to provide all necessary services and resources to transgender service members who are displaced by the abhorrent federal policy which endorses discrimination in the armed forces and undermines national security. In January, Governor Cuomo signed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, landmark legislation that prohibits employers, educational institutions, landlords, creditors, and others from discrimination against individuals on the basis of gender identity or expression.