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The former ban on LGBT troops still haunts veterans

It’s been years since the military lifted the ban to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual troops to serve openly, but veterans kicked out under the ban are still on their own to clear their names.

Teresa Hogan was discharged from the Navy in 1980, after she confided to another sailor that she was attracted to a civilian woman. The sailor threatened to go to their command — saying even talking about her feelings was illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“She was right, something had happened, it said right in UCMJ, you know, anything homosexual, I had to go,” Hogan said. “I couldn't have her out me. I had to do the honorable thing. Own it. I mean, they could have said, 'Oh shut up, go back to work,' but they chose not to.”

Instead, Hogan said, “They asked me if I liked little kids.”

Though the ban ended in 2011, veterans still have to go through the process of upgrading their own discharge, says Kelsey Gagnon, an attorney with the Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of San Diego.

“It can be onerous for veterans, which is why I think, maybe veterans don't always pursue this,” Gagnon said.

For decades the words “Misconduct-Homosexual Acts” appeared on Hogan’s discharge. Prospective employers often ask for a veteran's discharge papers. Most veterans keep a copy of their form DD214 throughout their lives. The Veterans Administration requires a DD214 for healthcare and other benefits. Last year the VA changed its policies to make it easier for some of these veterans to receive services, even if their discharge status meant they normally would not qualify for some VA benefits. Still, many veterans find it painful to go through the legal process to change their discharge.

“Obviously it’s traumatic for some veterans and it may take time for them to feel like they can put down on paper what happened to them, and so it can take time,” she said.

The process can take years for veterans given less than honorable discharges. Hogan has an honorable discharge. She only needed to remove the misconduct as it appears on her paperwork. For her, the process only took a few months, and it closed the book on decades of unnecessary pain. Too late for some in her family though, who blamed her for being kicked out of the Navy, Hogan says.

“My dad died last year, when this happened. I can't even tell him. He didn't talk to me for so long. My brothers just disowned me for so long,” she said.

Hogan has an adult daughter. She was trained to be a lab technician in the Navy and she stayed in the field throughout her career. She now works for the San Diego VA.

The Veterans Legal Clinic works with veterans free of charge on a number of service related issues, including discharge upgrades.

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