SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
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Ever since World War II, LGB people have been barred from openly serving in the military. Many, however, have honorably served in uniform—yet find that they or their partners in old age are denied a variety of federal benefits typically available to veterans, their spouses, and their dependents. SAGE, in partnership with Veterans Justice/LGBT Projects of Legal Services NYC, has launched SAGEVets, an initiative to ensure that all who served get the benefits they deserve. In 2015, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), introduced the “Restore Honor to Service” bill to Congress. The bill would allow LGB veterans the chance to restore their records to reflect their honorable military service if they were discharged due to their sexual orientation.

Key Facts

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)" does not change whether someone is eligible for VA benefits. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to determine a service member's eligibility for benefits based on factors such as time served, discharge characterization and disability rating. Veterans, however, may petition to upgrade their discharge characterizations, which may have been negatively impacted by DADT. As a result of an upgraded discharge characterization, veterans may be eligible for benefits to which they otherwise may not have been entitled. That being said, the VA may also make an independent determination of a service member's discharge characterization, which may be used to determine the benefits to which the veteran is entitled.

By regulation, the VA is not permitted to perform or pay for sex reassignment surgery. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a directive in June 2011 articulating a policy of fair and equal treatment for transgender veterans that confirms coverage for medically necessary healthcare for transgender veterans, such as sex-specific care like mammograms and pap smears and transition-related care like hormones and mental health services.

To learn more about veterans issues and LGBT elders, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 202-640-2705 or at

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