For Decades, Women Were Discharged from the Military for Pregnancy. Now a Lawmaker Wants to Restore Their Benefits

Soldiers in their third trimester perform the designated stretches.
Soldiers in their third trimester perform the designated stretches outlined by the Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training program Feb. 19, 2014 at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf)

A California lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require the Government Accountability Office to investigate the involuntary discharge of thousands of women from military service from the 1950s to the 1970s due to pregnancy or motherhood -- something that could end up restoring benefits to those who lost them through unwarranted dismissals.

Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley on Thursday introduced the "Justice for Women Veterans Act," which would commission a study to identify "irregularities in discharges that may have left these women without the veterans' benefits that they earned," according to a release.

"The unfair practice of discharging women from the military because they became pregnant or became a mother was not only wrong but it perpetuated a harmful cycle of gender prejudice," Brownley said in the release. "My goal is to identify disparities in access to care and benefits for women veterans and, where necessary, introduce, advocate for, and pass legislation that fixes those gaps."

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The study would look at involuntary discharges between 1951 and 1976, when Executive Order 10240 was in effect. Signed by President Harry Truman on April 27, 1951, it stipulated that women could be removed "regardless of rank, grade, or length of service."

During that time, the Pentagon granted discretionary authority to the service branches to discharge women due to pregnancy, childbirth or becoming parents or stepparents through adoption.

Brownley's office said the policy was prejudiced against "thousands of women who became pregnant, regardless of whether the pregnancy was planned, unplanned, or the result of sexual violence."

Women were not given the courtesy of separation benefits, counseling or any type of assistance despite their removal from the armed forces, the release states.

The GAO will look at the executive order's impact, including how women of a particular race or ethnicity may have faced other discrimination. The congressional watchdog will make recommendations on the best ways to potentially restore those benefits, the release adds.

"This bill is the first step in assessing the impact of this discriminatory practice against servicewomen and will provide recommendations on how to restore fairness for these women veterans," Brownley said.

The review would be similar to an investigation released in May 2017 into other-than-honorable discharges of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. The GAO found that, of roughly 92,000 service members discharged for misconduct between 2011 and 2015, two-thirds "were diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other conditions such as adjustment, anxiety, bipolar or substance abuse disorders within two years before leaving the service."

That GAO study also said the military services were inconsistent in considering whether service-connected medical issues contributed to the misconduct.

-- Patricia Kime contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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