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United States. Congress. House. Committee on Veter.

Viewpoints on Veterans Affairs and related issues : hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, May 4, 1994 online

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dication, and I was told that I needed proof of what happened and
the names of the people. I said this is 27 years ago. I am not going
to be able to get any of these things. What I have come away with
and what the women who have come away with who have given
their statements, their written testimony here, is that we have hit
an institutional bias within the department because they really
have a very unaware attitude about women and their needs, their
special needs in this particular area itself.

It is my fervent wish that we can bring some education and get
our full rights back as women veterans by having someone inside
the department that we can go with and talk to and advocate with
and say, "Here are our medical needs. Here are our emotional
needs. Here are our needs on the benefits, educational, housing."

It would be easier than what we are having to do now, which is
deal with a gentleman over here, maybe a lady over there, and
someone else over there. It is so fragmented, but having one de-
partment and one director would really solve a lot of our problems.



32

And I know it is not a panacea. It will take a long time to get
all of the bugs ironed out, but the Department of Labor has had
a Women's Bureau since the 1920s, and it has worked very well,
and I think this is the time to begin this, and over the years a lot
of these problems can just be alleviated, I hope.

I thank you very much for your time.

[The prepared statement of Ms. Sarembe appears at p. 147.]

Mr. Evans. Thank you, Ingrid. We appreciate your assistance
today, as we did in California recently.

Ms. Saremba. Yes. A pleasure to see you again, Mr. Evans.
Thank you so much for your assistance.

Mr. Evans. Thank you.

Ms. Waters. Mr. Chairman, if I can break tradition a little bit,
I would just like to say that I really appreciate your sharing that
very, very difficult and personal information with us, and I am so
glad that I arranged my schedule so that I could be here to have
you willing to share that and not even having a woman up here
to share it with would have been something that would have been
a shame, but I am glad that I am here so that I could be here to
have you share that.

Ms. Sarembe. I want to thank you so much, Congresswoman.
Just the support that you have given me, that the staff has given
me; Mr. Evans has, of course, had very strong support for women,
but your carrying this bill has meant so much, and to be able to
come forward and just share something that I would not have not
been able to do even two years ago, and it has given me a lot of
strength.

Ms. Waters. And thank you for your work on the bill, too. I real-
ly appreciate it.

Ms. Sarembe. Thank you so much, and I am glad that we were
able to do whatever we could.

Ms. Waters. Thank you.

Mr. Evans. Antonio.

STATEMENT OF ANTONIO MOLINA CABRERA

Mr. Cabrera. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honorable committee
members. Thank you for allowing me to present this testimony.

On behalf of the Hispanic Vietnam Veterans, my name is Anto-
nio Molina Cabrera, President and CEO of El Universal Newspaper
in Boston, MA, an Hispanic weekly journal serving the community
of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

I am a Vietnam veteran who served in the United States Marine
Corps during some of this country's most difficult times, the Cuban
missile crisis, President Kennedy's assassination, and last, but not
least, the war in Vietnam.

I was conferred the dubious honor by the Vietcong of being the
first Hispanic wounded in that conflict in April of 1965. After
spending three months in VA hospitals in Japan to the West Coast
to the East Coast, I was honorably discharged. I was one of the
lucky ones who was able to make it back.

The last official word said to me by a lieutenant colonel were, "A
job well done, Marine. You have made your country proud of you."
That was in 1965, and to this day those words are engraved in my
mind.



33

Last year my colleague, Sergeant Gumersindo Gomez, who is the
Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Veterans Association of-
Massachsuetts, came before this honorable body to advocate for as-
sistance for veterans from our community. His major argument was
that Hispanic veterans have been devoid of economic empowerment
because of the lack of access to technical assistance and the total
neglect of the VA towards us.

This is clearly highlighted by the problems of the VA hospital in
Puerto Rico and by the absence of bilingual professionals in VA
hospitals around the nation.

We were not asked about our language capabilities before we
were sent to the front lines. It is unfair and immoral to be denied
services today because of a language barrier.

Here we are a year later before the same body, going over the
same issues, requesting the same opportunities for Hispanics that
other distinguished and honorable American veterans have been
able to access. I come to you as a Vietnam veteran who has had
to continuously struggle during the past 30 years with my small
businesses, through my inability to access the power structure of
our system to achieve some of the means of economic stability for
myself, my family, and my businesses.

In order for any of us small business owners to obtain a loan
with SBA guarantee, we must first have attained a certain level of
success. That being the case, an SBA loan becomes academic. If we
can survive without it during the hard times, then obviously we do
not need it later.

Many have been to small businesses, Hispanic businesses, that
have failed because the helping hands were not there when they
needed it most. The backbone of this great nation of ours is pre-
cisely our small businesses, particularly as they provide more job
opportunities, especially for minorities, than any other sector of the
economy.

We must strengthen and continue to nurture the notion that
small business development is what we need for veterans. We
should and must help the veteran community in order for them to
feel useful to their families, to themselves, and to their nation.

When Hispanics continue to have the highest unemployment rate
in the nation, we continue to be the poorest community, we con-
tinue to receive the least benefits from VA and other agencies of
the federal government, yet we continue to serve our country with
fervor and pride.

I want to reaffirm very strongly that our veteran small business
community can be a strong advocate for our society. We can be self-
sufficient. We can be a catalyst for economic empowerment for our
respective communities, but we need your support. We cannot do
it alone.

I strongly urge this honorable body to advocate for us with the
VA and SBA, as well as other federal agencies and the Department
of Housing and Urban Development especially. It is in your power
to do so. It is in the nation's best interest to do so.

I strongly want to believe that what I was told 30 years ago by
a U.S. Marine lieutenant colonel was really meant, that my country
is as proud of me as I am of my country. Thank you.

[The prepared statement of Mr. Cabrera appears on p. 158.]



34

Mr. Evans. Thank you, Antonio. Semper fi.
Mr. Cabrera. Semper fi.
Mr. Evans. I appreciate it.
Michelle.

STATEMENT OF MICHELLE M. BENECKE

Ms. Benecke. Thank you.

My name is Michelle Benecke. I would like to thank Chairman
Evans вАФ

Mr. Evans. Would you please pull that microphone directly in
front of you?

Ms. Benecke. Is this better?

Mr. Evans. That is much better, thank you.

Ms. Benecke. Thank you.

I would like to thank you. Chairman Evans, members of the Sub-
committee on Oversight and Investigations, and also Dr. Paul
Camacho and the William Joiner Conference for the opportunity to
be here today and to speak with you about legal issues of particu-
lar concern to gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans.

Along with my colleague Dixon Osbum, I am the Co-Executive
Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We are the
sole national organization existing to provide legal assistance for
military members who are harmed because they are or they are
perceived to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

I am an attorney. I guess I am the next generation of veterans,
as I am the daughter of a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran,
and I am a veteran myself, having served on active duty for over
six years as an Army air defense artillery officer before working my
way through Harvard Law School.

As an initial matter, I would like to note that the gay veterans
constituency is substantial before this committee and the VA. Last
year's debate over gays in the military revealed that numerous gay
citizens have served the country honorably and well. Exit polls con-
ducted in the last presidential election found that approximately
eight percent of veterans who voted are, indeed, gay or lesbian.

I think you will find that the gay veterans community is not only
a community that deserves attention, but also a substantial re-
source, and we are happy to assist you in whatever way we can.

While the primary mission of Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network is to serve active duty military members, we receive nu-
merous calls from gay veterans needing assistance. Often they have
been turned away by other places, and we are their last resort.
They share the concerns of their straight counterparts, not surpris-
ingly, because they served with their straight counterparts in every
branch of the armed services and in every conflict.

My comments today, however, will focus primarily on issues that
have a disproportionately negative impact on gay vets. Among
these are renewed recoupment actions on the part of Department
of Defense to go after veterans discharged for homosexuality for bo-
nuses and scholarship monies; DD Form 214 annotations regarding
homosexuality; discharge characterizations; and briefly I would like
to refer to Ms. Sarembe's comments and the particular impact of
the things she has spoken about on lesbians. By singling out these



35

issues, I do not mean to imply that these are the only areas that
have a disproportionate impact on gay vets.

The first thing I will turn to is the recoupment of scholarships
and bonuses. My organization has discovered reinstated effort on
the part of the Department of Defense to recoup ROTC scholarship
money and bonuses from veterans who have been discharged for
homosexuality. This is a practice that was ended in 1988 under the
Bush administration by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

The tactics that are being used for recoupment have produced
some severe consequences. The IRS is dunning veterans' tax rebate
checks as we speak. DOD is reporting gay veterans to private col-
lection and credit agencies, thereby ruining their credit ratings
and, in several cases, forcing them into banlcruptcy. As a direct re-
sult, some of these veterans are now facing the specter of homeless-
ness.

Those who have contacted DOD in an attempt to ascertain the
reason for recoupment and contest DOD's actions have run into a
bureaucratic brick wall. Just to mention one typical case, one vet-
eran we are assisting sent five letters and made numerous phone
calls to DOD regarding its actions. DOD's only response before
dunning his tax check and turning his case over to a private collec-
tion agency was to send him three form letters demanding repay-
ment of the entire debt in one lump sum.

The Pentagon has defended the policy saying that it protects the
military from fraud by those members who knew they were gay
when they entered service, but the facts of the cases we are dealing
with do not support this claim. DOD is, in fact, seeking recoupment
from many veterans who did not come to acknowledge their sexual
orientation until well after they entered service. This should not be
surprising, given the young age at which people usually enlist.

More importantly, gay veterans are the only category of person-
nel from whom DOD is seeking recoupment for reasons unrelated
to job performance. The veterans we are assisting have excellent
service records. They have honorable discharges, showing that the
military themselves has seen their duty to be fit, and it is the ac-
tions of DOD and not these veterans that is preventing their con-
tinued service today.

We think Secretary Cheney had it right when he stopped this
practice in 1988 and when he ordered the Joint Chiefs to back off.
We do not believe that this needs a legislative initiative today. We
do think that DOD should take care of the problem in the same
way it was taken care of under the Bush administration, which is
simply to stop it.

We would, welcome, however, any pressure that members of this
committee could place on the Department of Defense, to stop this
practice.

The next area I will turn to is DD Form 214 annotations. I am
going to leave many of the details to the next speaker, Nancy Rus-
sell, who is President of the Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans. I
just want to mention two things.

What I am referring to is the practice of writing homosexuality,
homosexual conduct, and narrative descriptions on servicemembers'
DD Form 214s, which is the piece of paper they often are required



36

to show to civilian employers when seeking a job and to state veter-
ans' agencies to apply for benefits.

This general issue is of concern to other veterans' constituencies,
as the practice of annotating the reason for discharge in addition
to the characterization of discharge on a servicemember's DD-214
can stigmatize veterans for the rest of their lives. For gays, it is
particularly harsh because it outs them for life.

In addition to the forced outing that occurs on this form, which
is a public document, this practice is particularly ignoble in light
of the fact that many gay veterans were discharged because they
were outed by military investigators. The investigative tactics used
against suspected gay military members have been particularly
harsh, and several of them are noted in my written testimony.
They include things like locking people in broom closets for hours
at a time and putting pins in one individual's head to test for "neu-
rological damage" in an effort to elicit confessions that they are
gay.

I see that I have your attention. I would like to ask for a few
more minutes to describe some of the other tactics, and to note that
these sorts of tactics continue today. My organization is tracking
two witch hunts as we speak using similar tactics.

We are aware of military people and veterans who have been
threatened with loss of child custody if they did not confess, if they
did not name other people who were rumored to be gay or to have
engaged in gay conduct. We deal with people all the time who are
threatened with imprisonment if, again, they do not confess to
being gay or to engaging in gay acts and if they do not name other
people who may be gay or engage in gay acts.

So on top of these kinds of ignoble practices which out people in
the first place, the military's second outing of them for life on a
DD-214 discharge form is particularly egregious. This is just not
a business that our government should be in, and it should stop.

The way to stop it is simple. Take the reason for discharge off
of the DD Form 214. The characterization of service is all that any-
one else should conceivably be interested in. This would not pre-
clude the government from maintaining internal files. But there is
simply no credible justification for permanently outing someone
over the course of their life.

The rest of the issues are covered pretty thoroughly in my writ-
ten testimony. Discharge characterizations, I will just briefly point
out, manifest a similar problem. Gay people are singled out for
harsh treatment, meaning lower discharge characterizations, and
that affects their veterans benefits. This is a particular problem
with the Montgomery GI Bill program, where veterans who were
given general discharges simply because they are gay. Not only
that, the people we are assisting are finding that they are not even
able to get back their own money that they invested in the pro-
gram.

Our recommendation in light of the fact that it is documented
that gay veterans are singled out for general and other than honor-
able discharges, regardless of the standard for characterizations,
regardless of the fact that their records warrant honorable dis-
charges, is that, if this committee and the VA cannot fix the dis-



37

charge process with DOD, the least it could do is to review the
cases on a case-by-case basis for benefits.

The last issue I want to address is that covered by the first pan-
elist, Ms. Sarembe. Lesbians are particularly impacted by the is-
sues she spoke about. Women frequently are sexually harassed in
the military by a process called lesbian baiting. Often they find
themselves accused of being lesbian in retaliation for reporting sex-
ual harassment. Instead of investigating the alleged harasser's con-
duct, inquiry is turned onto them about whether or not they are
lesbians. The same is true if they report rape.

Women know that they will be labeled as a lesbian if they report
harassment or rape. They consequently do not report it, particu-
larly if a woman actually is a lesbian. I know of a number of
women from my own service who were raped who would not report
it because they were afraid they would be outed as lesbians, and
every lesbian I know who has been sexually harassed has not re-
ported it because of the fear of being labeled as lesbian, and thus
being investigated and discharged.

The consequence is that lesbians and other women often lack the
documentation leading to PTSD, and they have no reason to trust
that the Veterans Administration is going to treat them any dif-
ferently them the military if they disclose their orientation along
with other facts of their situation.

That concludes my comments. I want to thank the subcommittee
members for including us in these hearings, as well as Dr. Paul
Camacho for including us in the William Joiner Conference. We are
available to you as a resource and would be happy to assist you on
issues of concern to gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans in the
future.

Thank you.

[The prepared statement of Ms. Benecke appears on p. 160.]

Mr. Evans. Thank you very much.

Nancy.

STATEMENT OF NANCY A. RUSSELL

Ms. Russell. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for the
opportunity to be here today and also to Paul Camacho for encour-
aging us to be here.

I intend to be rather brief. I hope that the members of this sub-
committee will read the full text of my prepared statement. It was
kind of difficult sitting here and listening to Michelle Benecke
whose statements we certainly endorse fully because I know the
pain and I know the feelings of anger and hurt that are there, be-
cause we spent the last 16 months or so in a very agonizing period
in which we were discussed in some very loathsome ways. An awful
lot of truth has been totally discounted, and studies reporting that
we are not harmful to the good order and discipline of the military
were conveniently ignored. Here we are again, and I do not wish
to go back into all of those issues again, but I do come here today
to tell you that "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" does not work.

The truth really is still very simply: that gays in the military ac-
quit themselves well. They perform their duty courageously. Their
deportment is better than average, and they will continue to serve



38

in the United States military, and one of these days they will be
properly recognized. I am confident of that.

And I am also confident that one of these days many Members
of Congress will look back on this past year with some sense of
rightful shame, because I do not believe that it is the American
way to legalize discrimination no matter how we try to justify it.

The military is claiming that it treats heterosexual and homo-
sexual misconduct even-handedly, but obviously it does not. We
have certainly just witnessed evidence of that. The Navy, with ad-
ministration cooperation, white washed the Tailhook scandal. Very
little punishment was meted out to any of the couple of hundred
male officers accused of sexual harassment. And two weeks ago.
Admiral Kelso was rewarded with his fourth star at his retirement,
even though the admiral was at the convention where the incidents
occurred, and the military judge who dismissed charges against the
remaining officers cited Kelso's culpability.

The administration argued there was no evidence that Kelso saw
any misconduct. It is not necessary to have evidence of misconduct
to discharge a gay or a lesbian servicemember. To avoid the notion
that gays are discharged for status alone, the new policy uses the
convoluted reasoning that speech is conduct. To say that you are
gay under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is interpreted to mean
that you have a propensity or intent to act or engage in homo-
sexual activity, and no proof is necessary.

"Don't ask, don't tell" just simply does not work. Under this pol-
icy the military is continuing to ferret out and to persecute gay and
lesbian servicemembers. According to a New Republic article that
was published on May 2nd of this year, instead of a decrease in dis-
charges for homosexuality in fiscal year 1993, there was an in-
crease to 773 compared to 708 in fiscal year 1992.

(See p. 170.)

The services are capable of being vicious and vendictive in pursu-
ing lesbians and gays. Rules of evidence do not apply, allowing the
services to railroad servicemembers into discharge. If that is not
enough, the servicemember's career is destroyed, and every effort
is made to see that the individual carries this stigma for the rest
of his or her life.

One thing that we can ask you to do to help to mitigate the im-
pact of "don't ask, don't tell" is to support a request to DOD for an
administrative change to totally eliminate the separation process-
ing designator and the narrative reason for separation from the DD
Form 214.

Placement of the separation code and the narrative reason for
discharge on the individual's copy of the DD Form 214 brands the
veteran, making it difficult for him or her to present the DD-214
either for medical benefits or for employment.

It is a matter of increasing concern for veteran advocates that
fear of disclosing personal information, particularly in medical situ-
ations, inhibits and may completely block provision of appropriate
medical care to those individuals. They are having to out them-
selves in their own community because of that information being
on the 214.



39

The other thing that you can do for us is to help to insure that
the Department of Defense Hves up to the promise, to the spirit,
and to the intent of "don't ask, don't tell, and don't pursue."

I thank you for the opportunity.

[The prepared statement of Ms. Russell appears on p. 175.]

Mr. Evans. Thank you very much.

Dr. Richardson.

STATEMENT OF EDWIN STRONG-LEGS RICHARDSON, Ph.D.

Dr. Richardson. "Hau Kola, Lila Waste" (How Cola, Lee-lah
Wash-stay). I would like to say, "Hello, Friends. The best to you
and I hope you have a good day." (Speaking in the language of the
Lakota Sioux.)

Emaciyapi yelo (A-mah-see-yahpee yeah-lo). May name is Dr.
Edwin Strong-Legs Richardson. My dad was a Penobscot Indian,
and he said before I speak before a distinguished group, always to
say (speaking in Abemaki): "Hoh wa-saw-wa-haw-ti wah-ped-him-
a-tor-kni" (Hoh Wah-sahw-wah-harw-tea Warh-paid-heem-attor-
ney), and that is to make all of you important and make me impor-
tant among you.

I particularly want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and my good
friend Paul Camacho, and I feel pleased to be with this panel here
today, and I have been very impressed with their presentation.

I am a combat infantryman. I fought the Germans, the Japanese,
the Vietnamese. I was in World War II as a Combat Infantryman
and Mountaineer, the Korean War as a clinical psychologist, and
in the Vietnam War as a Combat Infantryman and Special Forces
Paratrooper. I was a member of the 10th Mountain Division,
wounded and hospitalized with Senator Bob Dole in the same field
hospital in Italy. I was a member of the Special Forces, the Green
Berets, the 18th Airborne, and so I feel that I represented my coun-
try well, and as an Indian officer representing Indian people. As a
Native American Warrior Soldier, we are very concerned with what
the military has been doing and its opportunities.

I might say that among Indian people, which is important for all
people to realize, we had in Vietnam over 86,000 Native Ameri-


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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. House. Committee on VeterViewpoints on Veterans Affairs and related issues : hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, May 4, 1994 → online text (page 5 of 23)