My own lived experiences have demonstrated how standing up against power for fairness and justice, does work. Lambda Legal and Legal Voices were my attorney advocates against the military. I was reinstated in the military as justice prevailed.
We lobbied for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and though it took 17 years, justice prevailed and the ban against gay service members was repealed.
Further fairness in these United States mandated same and equal treatment for homosexual couples committed as partners. Gradual change from domestic partnership registration and ultimately full marriage equality began in 2012.
Seeing injustice or unfair treatment of individuals as a result of any characteristic or belief system requires social action by the majority to protect the minority.
Today we are confronted with ongoing challenges to injustice. We must act by our voices, resources and political action to truly work to liberty and justice for all.
2 May 18
Fighting for Justice, Choices and Help
It can be difficult to decide how to deal with unfairness or injustice. (Discharged for being gay, denied service or care because you are gay?) The legal basis for decisions is grounded in the constitution which guarantees liberty and justice for all. It is grounded in equal protection under the law. When those rights are not supported by actions, laws or regulations it creates an opportunity to act.
Considerations when choosing to use the legal system include deciding if the case has one beneficiary or if the case will have a broader social impact. The distinction is significant because it determines how to find legal assistance.
Seeking Legal Help
There are two primary options on seeking legal help:
As a single client and a private lawyer
Becoming a plaintiff for a legal case that has global influence whether you win or lose.
Interviewing to find the attorney can be an intimidating venture. Frequently their office is in a downtown area, multiple office skyscrapers, but more significantly it is very costly. When funds are an issue, many legal firms expect their lawyers to donate (pro bono) legal expertise. The internet provides more information about this type legal help. You have to ask for pro bono assistance.
As you evaluate your own case, think about its social impact. Will your case, if won, impact other people, challenge rules, regulations or laws? If your case has a broader impact, there are organizations which may be willing to represent you.
To change laws, legal organizations need to have a credible client to take through the legal system. It can be intimidating both to seek legal assistance and go through the process. In the long run taking on the system is well worth the journey. Your case will change the world.
Organizations offering to assist with advancing civil rights:
“We are a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV”.
National Center for Lesbian Rights:
NCLR is a non-profit, public interest law firm that litigates precedent-setting cases at the trial and appellate court levels; advocates for equitable public policies affecting the LGBT community; provides free legal assistance to LGBT people and their legal advocates; and conducts community education on LGBT issues.
Human Rights Campaign:
The HRC is America's largest civil rights/political organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality. Although not a legal organization per se it has been active in developing amicus briefs for relevant legal cases.
American Civil Liberties Union:
ACLU is a national organization that works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Military Law Task Force: nlgmltf.org/
MLTF assists those working on military law issues as well as military law counselors working directly with GIs. The ACLU tracks changes in military law and policy. Men and women in uniform are routinely deprived of civil liberties and subjected to bigotry, abuse and harassment. Veterans often have difficulty obtaining the benefits promised from the Veterans Administration, and many face a life-long stigma of less-than-honorable discharges.
Self Help Starters
Veterans Discharge Upgrade Manual, 2011
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/abcmr-overview.html
Discharge Upgrades and PTSD (as of 9-3-2014)
Applies to veterans whose characterization of discharge was under other than honorable conditions and who assert that they suffered PTSD or related conditions that they believe mitigated the misconduct that led to the discharge. This memorandum focuses on those veterans who served before PTSD was a recognized diagnosis; however, the guidance will be applied to all veterans.
Discharge Upgrades and Sexual Assault (as of 9-3-2014)
applies to veterans whose characterization of discharge was under other than honorable conditions and who assert that they suffered PTSD and/or sexual assault or sexual harassment trauma that they believe mitigated the misconduct that led to the discharge. The memorandum focuses on those veterans who served before PTSD was a recognized diagnosis; however, the guidance will be applied to all veterans.
DD214 Name Changes – General Corrections
The Board will consider applications for name changes to the DD214 to correct an error or remove an injustice. The applicant must provide justification demonstrating that they were a victim of an error (i.e., genuine error) or that having their former name on their DD-214 causes an injustice (e.g., due to a divorce or their transgender status). A signed and authenticated court order providing proof the applicant's name was legally changed should accompany the application. As with all applications to the Board, each application for a name change will be considered on its own merits.
Board for Correction of Military Records (service specific) check online information.
Online Tool to Upgrade Discharge: https://www.vets.gov/discharge-upgrade-instructions.
Veterans Administration: https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/
Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 In November 2017, we launched Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) with the goal of providing eligible appellants with the earliest possible resolution of their disagreement with VA's decision on their claim. The Appeals Modernization Act establishes a new review process for VA claims that is timely, transparent, and fair, and thus allows us to improve the delivery of benefits and services to you and your family.
If you received a less than honorable discharge you should fight for an upgrade. The SLDN/OutServe and Military Law Task Force are the best places to begin. If you were discharged and suffer PTS due to sexual assault in the military, contact the VA for assistance.
Everyone deserves to have their military service treated with honor and respect. You deserve an honorable discharge. Generally, in order to receive VA benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general). Requesting a change in your discharge characterization could open doors for you and your family with a multitude of benefits.
Thank you for your service,
Colonel (retired) Margarethe Cammermeyer