Senate unanimously OKs benefits for discharged gay vets [Connecticut Post]

April 26, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

HARTFORD — Veterans who were dishonorably discharged under the U.S. military’s former “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy against homosexuals would be eligible for state benefits, including local property-tax breaks, under a bill approved Wednesday in the state Senate.

The legislation passed 34-0 and heads to the House.

Eligible veterans would have to prove they were denied federal benefits based solely on their sexual orientation, and would need to get their eligibility for federal benefits reinstated in order to become eligible for the state and local benefits.

The state Department of Veterans Affairs would be required to refer vets to organizations that can assist in having military discharges upgraded.

The new policy would take effect on Oct. 1 and cover military personnel who served between 1993 and 2011, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in effect.

“It is extremely disappointing in this day and age that a person who puts their life on the line for their country would be denied benefits based solely on their sexual orientation,” said Sen. Antonietta Boucher, R-Wilton. “I am proud of our state for sending a strong message of support to our service men and women and ending this discriminatory practice.”

The legislation would make vets eligible for tuition waivers in state colleges and state financial aid. It would also make them eligible for admission to the state Veterans Home in Rocky Hill and burial in the veterans’ cemetery in Middletown. It is expected to cost the state about $10,000 printing and distribution of information pamphlets to veterans. Other potential costs include $1,000 property tax exemptions for vets, and other tax exemptions if they were disabled. The state reimburses towns and cities for that lost revenue.

The legislative research has no estimate of the number of veterans who could be eligible.

State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ forced out “thousands of good, honorable soldiers.”

“We should honor all who serve, and part of that is ensuring access to benefits they have earned,” he said.