Just recently on Thursday, October 6, 2011, Apolonio E. Muñoz III the NVF Outreach Coordinator boarded a plane for Albuquerque, NM. Apolonio was heading to the Land of Enchantment to attend the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) National Convention which was hosted at the Sandia Courtyard Hotel, October 6-9, 2011. With the recent passage and certification of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) Repeal, this was an opportune time to get the facts from one of the organizations responsible for this piece of legislature that will forever change the history of the most powerful militaries on Earth.
At the AVER National Convention, Apolonio had the pleasure to meet several brave men & women who were integral parts of the DADT Repeal, such as: LTC Steve Loomis, US Army (Ret), LTC Victor Fehrenbach, US Air Force (Ret), SSG James Apedaile, US Army (Ret), SGT Danny Ingram (Discharged from the US Army under DADT), SSG Anthony Loverde (Discharged from the US Air Force under DADT), MAJ Mike Almy (Discharged from the US Air Force under DADT) & last but definitely not least COL Andy Leonard, US Army (Ret). That was just a hand full of those that were in attendance. Apolonio also had the pleasure of meeting Bill Toledo, a Navajo World War II Marine Veteran and one of the famous “Code Talkers” who were able to use their unwritten language to help defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. Apolonio was also scheduled to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, “The Greatest Show off the Earth”, as part of the Convention. However the weather didn’t cooperate & several showings were cancelled.
Throughout the Convention there were presentations by LTC Fehrenbach & MAJ Almy about their experiences with DADT, and the work they are currently doing with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). There was also a presentation from ACLU-New Mexico who is currently doing a class action lawsuit against the Dept of Defense for those who were discharged under DADT and had their separation pay reduced by 50%. This case is spearheaded by ACLU-NM with the assistance of SLDN and is still in litigations at this time; NVF will post more information about this case as more information is provided. SLDN is attempting to work with the Dept of Defense to resolve any issues that stemmed from the DADT Policy. Now that the policy is no longer on the books, there still is the issue of upgrading Discharges, Re-Entry Codes, Discharge Narratives, Loss of Pay, and Loss of Time in Service/Rank. There are many people whom were discharged under DADT who wish to renter the service onto Active Duty and can’t unless these issues are addressed. With the current Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, and anything else will not be recognized by the federal government. DOMA creates a sub-class of members of the US Armed Forces, just as DADT had done. Without the passage of a repeal of DOMA, the service members who have a spouse of the same sex, that is recognized in the state that they reside is barred from adding said spouse to their benefits. Furthermore, if the servicemember is relocated on orders to another state that doesn’t recognize the marriage or relocated out of Country, that spouse will not be eligible for the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. In most cases the spouse will not get anything and will not be able to move with the servicemember creating a rift in the battle readiness of the US Armed Forces. One last issue that is being fought is the inclusion of Transgender service members in the DADT Repeal. Currently as it stands this class of American Citizens whom wish to serve their country are barred from doing so.
Another issue that has was brought up at the Convention, would be the treatment of LGBT Veterans by the US Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA). When DADT was enacted many service members were discharged with less than Honorable Discharges barring them from VA Benefits. The VA has countless reports of maltreatment of its LGBT Patients, which is violation of the Patient’s rights & discriminatory on bases of sexual identity & preference. This type of discrimination is not tolerated in any medical facility outside of the VA, so why is the VA doing this. Being that all these issues are still being litigated in Federal Court, the NVF will be monitoring them and passing on any & all information regarding them.
Apolonio will be working with the AVER National Board in the coming months to assist them in reforming their Greater Los Angeles Chapter. He will also be working as a liaison between AVER & SLDN to make sure that the NVF Team is up to date on the developments pertaining to these hot button issues, as they directly affect the Veterans and Servicemembers that the NVF is here to help.
(American Veterans for Equal Rights( AVER), founded in 1990, is a non-profit, chapter-based association of Active, Reserve and Veteran Servicemembers dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), founded in 1993, is a non-profit legal services, watchdog, and policy organization. It is dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment of gay and lesbian U.S. military personnel negatively affected by the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which was enacted in 1993. The SLDN documented over 700 violations in the policy’s first two years of operation. As of January, 2011, SLDN has provided legal aid to more than 10,000 servicemembers.)