It has been a full year since the official end of "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), and all the catastrophic predictions of those opposed to honest service by gays and lesbians have failed to materialize. Troops now serve our nation openly and proudly, without fear of losing their jobs simply because of the gender of the person they love. This was truly a hard-fought, often nasty, and narrowly won victory, as I openly confess in intimate and raw detail in my new book, Fighting to Serve: Behind the Scenes in the War to Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And with such a successful final outcome on this policy change, it would be easy to just savor the triumph, be satisfied, and move on. But what many may not realize, however, is that gay troops are still not being treated equally within our armed forces.
When it comes to benefits and support, LGBT servicemembers are still treated as if they are second-class citizens and as if their families don't matter. Due to out-of-date internal Department of Defense (DoD) regulations and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the partners, spouses, and families of gay troops are denied access to a whole host of benefits and support programs that are designed to help troops deal with the rigorous demands that come with military service. Likewise, gay and lesbian veterans are still denied some of the benefits that are automatically bestowed upon heterosexual veterans and their spouses in retirement, as if a lifetime of service and sacrifice is somehow less significant and meaningful to this country if you happen to be gay or lesbian.
The battle for full equality is still far from over. Rather than declaring victory and moving on to other issues, the pressure must continue for the sake of our military families. Organizations like the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), the successor to Servicemembers United, are doing just that by picking up the banner and carrying it forward into the next phases this fight. By connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers, AMPA is building a vocal and visible community of LGBT military partners and spouses and a new movement that serves to highlight just how damaging this ongoing discrimination truly is.
One major issue currently facing these same-sex military couples in the post-DADT era is denied access to health-care benefits through the military health-care system. Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, the civilian partners of gay and lesbian troops are left to fend for themselves, often having to go without much-needed medical care or pay for outrageous costs right out of their own pockets. These "silent heroes" are also denied access to military family housing, family-readiness programs that require a dependent ID card, the use of on-post and on-base facilities, and privileges as simple as the ability to shop for groceries for their families at a local commissary. Even the rigorous task of moving to a new duty station every few years becomes exponentially more burdensome because the partners and families of LGBT troops are not factored into the calculation of travel allowances and moving expenses.
So yes, it has indeed been a great and successful year of open service for those who have made the personal decision to come out and be honest about who they are. And it has also been a year of unprecedented relief, even for those who have decided to remain closeted. However, these troops, their partners, their spouses, and their families deserve more. They deserve better. They deserve the same respect, support, and benefits that every other member of the military and their loved ones receive. These servicemembers and their families sacrifice so much for our nation, and they should be adequately appreciated, cared for, and supported in return. There is no excuse for this kind of continued treatment, especially a full year after the smooth and successful repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."