By Alessio Tummolillo
Richard Collins was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2006 after two civilians who worked with him witnessed him kissing his boyfriend. Collins was off base and not in uniform at the time. However, upon his discharge, he was only given half of his separation pay because his discharge was due to his sexual orientation. This led to the Collins v. United States class action lawsuit filed in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union.
As of Monday, the United States Government has opted to settle the suit, announcing that they will remunerate 100% of the separation pay to the 180 qualified individuals who were honorably discharged due to homosexuality on or after November 10th, 2004 .
“There was absolutely no need to subject these service members to a double dose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in the first place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease the transition to civilian life,” said Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico. “This decision represents a long-delayed justice to these veterans.”
According to ACLU officials, the reason the pay reduction was not changed when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed was because it was part of the Defense Department policy, a separate entity from the changed law. The administration argued that the defense secretary had sole discretion to decide who gets what in regards to separation pay, and the court should not be allowed to interfere in military regulations, according to the Washington Post.
Though the discriminatory policy went into effect in 1991, two years before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became law, the settlement can only cover those personnel discharged on or after the 2004 date due to the applicable statute of limitations. $2.4 million will be restored to the affected individuals. “[2.4 million dollars] is small by military standards, but is hugely significant in acknowledging their service to their country,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
The military offers a separation pay to any military personnel who is involuntarily or honorably discharged and has completed at least six years of service. Holding to the settlement, all service members who fall within the parameters of the suit will be contacted by the United States Government to be made aware that they can opt into the suit for 100% of the pay that they would have received if they were discharged for any other honorable reason.