ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Dozens of gay and lesbian former military service members who were discharged due to their homosexuality will receive the rest of their severance pay under a settlement approved Monday by a federal court.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the $2.4 million settlement covers more than 180 veterans who received only half of their separation pay under a policy that went into effect in 1991, two years before "don't ask, don't tell" became law.
Laura Schauer Ives, the managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, called the settlement a "long-delayed justice."
"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," she said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said the Defense Department is aware of the settlement and "will, of course, continue to follow the law, as well as the terms of the agreement."
The case was filed in 2010 by the ACLU on behalf of former Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Collins of Clovis, N.M. He was honorably discharged in 2006 after two civilians who worked with him at Cannon Air Force Base reported they saw him kiss his boyfriend in a car about 10 miles from the base. The decorated sergeant was off-duty and not in uniform at the time.
Collins said in a statement Monday that the settlement means a lot to him and others who were forced out of the military against their will.
Separation pay is granted to military personnel who serve at least six years but are involuntarily and honorably discharged. The Defense Department had a list of conditions that triggered an automatic reduction in that pay, including homosexuality, unsuccessful drug or alcohol treatment or discharge in the interests of national security.
The lawsuit argued that it was unconstitutional for the department to unilaterally cut the amount for people discharged for homosexuality.
Even though "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed last fall, the pay policy was separate and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., allowed the case to move forward.
At the time, the administration did not defend the merits of the policy but argued that the defense secretary had sole discretion to decide who gets what separation pay and that the court shouldn't be able to rewrite military regulations.
The settlement covers former military members who were discharged on or after Nov. 10, 2004. They will be notified by the federal government that they're eligible to opt in to the settlement and receive their full separation pay.