ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico -- Dozens of gay and lesbian formermilitary service members who were discharged due to their homosexualitywill receive the rest of their severance pay under a settlement approvedMonday by a federal court.
The American Civil Liberties Unionsaid the $2.4 million settlement covers more than 180 veterans whoreceived only half of their separation pay under a policy that went intoeffect in 1991, two years before "don't ask, don't tell" became law.
Laura Schauer Ives, the managing attorney for ACLU of New Mexico, called the settlement a "long-delayed justice."
"Therewas absolutely no need to subject these service members to a doubledose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in thefirst place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease thetransition to civilian life," she said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt.Col. Todd Breasseale, said the Defense Department is aware of thesettlement and "will, of course, continue to follow the law, as well asthe terms of the agreement."
The case was filed in 2010 by theACLU on behalf of former Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Collins of Clovis,N.M. He was honorably discharged in 2006 after two civilians who workedwith him at Cannon Air Force Base reported they saw him kiss hisboyfriend in a car about 10 miles from the base. The decorated sergeantwas off-duty and not in uniform at the time.
Collins said in astatement Monday that the settlement means a lot to him and others whowere forced out of the military against their will.
Separation payis granted to military personnel who serve at least six years but areinvoluntarily and honorably discharged. The Defense Department had alist of conditions that triggered an automatic reduction in that pay,including homosexuality, unsuccessful drug or alcohol treatment ordischarge in the interests of national security.
The lawsuitargued that it was unconstitutional for the department to unilaterallycut the amount for people discharged for homosexuality.
Eventhough "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed last fall, the pay policywas separate and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., allowed the caseto move forward.
At the time, the administration did not defendthe merits of the policy but argued that the defense secretary had solediscretion to decide who gets what separation pay and that the courtshouldn't be able to rewrite military regulations.
The settlementcovers former military members who were discharged on or after Nov. 10,2004. They will be notified by the federal government that they'reeligible to opt in to the settlement and receive their full separationpay.