Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01), a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, introduced legislation to establish an LGBTQ Veterans Advisory Committee at VA.
Many LGBTQ+ veterans faced systemic discrimination and were unfairly denied their VA benefits under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and continue to run into roadblocks when attempting to access benefits or programs afforded to non-LGBTQ+ veterans, such as health care, burial and memorial, education, and home loan benefits. VA estimates one million LGBTQ+ veterans face unique challenges accessing VA health care and the historic lack of targeted outreach or consideration of their needs have contributed to lower rates of health care utilization and a range of health disparities, with data showing that LGBTQ+ veterans experience depression and suicidal ideation at twice the rate of other veterans. The LGBTQ+ veterans community requires culturally competent, informed VA programs, staff, and policies that reflect their unique experiences and needs. Pappas's legislation will give LGBTQ+ veterans a direct line to the VA Secretary to ensure their experiences and voices are heard.
"LGBTQ+ veterans, whether they served during the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' era, in the years following, or more recently during the Trump administration's transgender military ban, all face unique challenges after separation or retirement," said Congressman Pappas. "LGBTQ+ veterans' voices need to be heard and effectively represented at the highest levels of VA. Establishing an LGBTQ Veterans Advisory Committee will ensure that VA benefits and services are accessible and responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ+ veterans community."
Pappas's legislation would establish an LGBTQ Veterans Advisory Committee at VA. The Committee's membership would reflect the diversity and unique needs of the LGBTQ+ veterans community by including professionals in fields related to health care and other needs unique to LGBTQ+ veterans, at least one lesbian, gay, or bisexual veteran with a service-connected disability, at least one transgender veteran with a service-connected disability, minority LGBTQ+ veterans, and LGBTQ+ veterans who have been both voluntarily and involuntarily separated from service.
The LGBTQ Veterans Advisory Committee would be required to submit a report to the VA Secretary on VA's LGBTQ+ veterans programs and activities, including:
Assessing the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans with respect to benefits and programs administered by VA.
Reviewing the programs and activities of VA designed to meet such needs.
Recommending needed adjustments and improvements to best meet the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans.
This legislation is supported by the Minority Veterans of America, Out in National Security, and the Modern Military Association of America.
"It remains as important as ever to get the ground truth on how LGBTQ+ veterans experience VA services - and then to use that information to improve the system," said Luke Schleusener, President, Out in National Security. "The historical discrimination that LGBTQ+ veterans experienced in service to their country and from American society make culturally competent and informed care a special responsibility and obligation of the VA. We are grateful for Representative Pappas' leadership on this effort, and applaud his work for us across the LGBTQ+ community."
"Throughout history, LGBTQ Americans have served our country, often at great risk to their physical, emotional, and mental health and, in the case of trans Americans, at higher rates than their cisgender counterparts. When the uniform comes off, these same Americans face unique barriers and obstacles to receiving care and living full and healthy lives," said Lindsay Church, Executive Director, Minority Veterans of America. "The establishment of an LGBTQ Advisory Committee would allow these unique needs to come to the forefront so that we might meet these challenges head-on and create greater access to care for all veterans. We applaud Representative Pappas' bill that will prepare VA to serve the next generation of veterans who are more sexual orientation and gender-diverse than any generation in our nation's history."
"The Modern Military Association of America fully supports Representative Pappas' bill to establish an LGBTQ+ Veterans Advisory Committee," said Jennifer Dane, Executive Director, Modern Military Association of America. "There are significant challenges faced by LGBTQ+ veterans, particularly the more than 114,000 who were discharged from service simply for who they are and who they love and denied the benefits deserved by ALL who choose to serve. The devastating and long-lasting impacts of LGBTQ+ discrimination that have plagued the DoD and DHS for decades are not fully understood by many senior decision makers and the only way to increase awareness of these important issues is through representation and collaboration with government."