LGBTQ+ veterans dishonorably discharged from military push to upgrade records

Dan Krauth Image
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
LGBTQ+ veterans push to upgrade discharge records
Dan Krauth has the details on the push to upgrade discharge records for LGBTQ+ veterans

The Pentagon is launching an effort to right the wrongs of the past by reviewing the cases of thousands LGBTQ+ veterans who were dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military over the sexuality.

Tim Bergling thought he would make an entire career out of serving in the Marine Corps but he wasn't allowed to wear the uniform for long.

"I simply wanted to serve my country in uniform," Bergling said.

After six years, he worked his way to sergeant while serving in the Philippines. That's when he said rumors about his sexuality sparked a military investigation.

"It was a witch hunt because they had no real evidence to go on," Bergling said. "They simply had somebody's suspicion that I might be gay."

The military discharged him and put "homosexuality admission" on his official discharge papers.

"The bottom dropped out of my world," he said. "I pretty much felt my military career come to an end at that moment."

"I never told them I was gay, I never admitted I was gay, so to see homosexual admission on a government form, it rankles me," Bergling said.

They didn't just kick him out. Bergling said the government deducted money from his income tax returns. He received a bonus when he signed up for the military, and they wanted the money back.

"That was really infuriating, they were the ones as far as I was concerned that broke the contract," he said.

Thousands of veterans like him were discharged. Some received honorable discharges but many received a lesser designation which denied them access to health care, tuition assistance, home loans, even the honor of a military burial.

"If we can fix some of that pain caused by the government, I think we should," said Cathy Marcello of the Modern Military Association of America.

The association has been helping LGBTQ+ veterans for years to upgrade their records.

It has been more than a decade since the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the discriminatory U.S. military policy that led to thousands of gay and lesbian service members to being discharged.

The Pentagon launched an effort to right the wrongs of the past. They're proactively reviewing the cases of those discharged during the time period.

"I think they've made a really great first step but the vast majority of these discharges for being gay have not been corrected," Marcello said.

The government is reviewing the files of a few thousand of those discharged between 1993 and 2011, but more than 100,000 LGBTQ+ veterans were discharged before that, like Bergling.

In those cases, the veterans have the option of applying to a military review board to upgrade their records but only 1 in 4 have done so.

It's something Bergling is now working to fix.

"I know I served honorably but now there will be a piece of paper that says that," Bergling said.

When Bergling first joined the Marine Corps, he never thought he would live to see the day he was allowed to get married, that people like him would be able to serve openly, and that all these years later, he could revisit his past to help him move forward.

"I feel it will put a period on the sentence and then I can just stop thinking about it," he said.