Las Cruces, N.M. — A group of former service members who left the military because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy will get the full separation pay they were denied, according to a recent $2.4 million court settlement.
The settlement was announced this week by the American Civil Liberties Union who sued the U.S. government on behalf of about 181 troops who were honorably discharged for violating the pre-2011 military ban on service members being openly gay.
"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, an ACLU lawyer.
The total payment in the settlement is about $2.4 million or about $14,000 per former service member, according to the ACLU.
The lead plaintiff in the case, according to court documents, was Richard Collins, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force who served for nine years until he was discharged.
Collins was stationed at a New Mexico base before he was seen by a co-worker kissing his boyfriend in their car while stopped at an intersection off-base, the ACLU said.
Collins applauded the decision.
"This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are," said Collins. "We gave all we had to our country, and just wanted the same dignity and respect for our service as any other veterans."
The settlement covers service members who fit the criteria and were discharged after November 10, 2004, the ACLU said.
The policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell," had been in place since 1993, and had permitted gays and lesbians to serve in the military, provided they didn't reveal their sexual orientation.
The policy, first enacted during the Clinton administration, was officially repealed on September 20, 2011.