CT LGBTQ+ veterans can now access state benefits. These benefits may provide life-saving healthcare ... [+] to veterans in need.getty
Under policies like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” LGBTQ+ service members were dishonorably discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. These unfairly discharged veterans have been ineligible to receive benefits, including medical care through Veterans’ Affairs.
But in a groundbreaking law, Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ veterans can now access these life-saving benefits.
This week, Connecticut passed a law that will now allow dishonorably discharged LGBTQ+ service members to access state benefits. Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan introduced the bill, and Governor Ned Lamont signed it into law earlier this week.
Allie-Brennan told NewsTimes, a Connecticut-based newspaper, that this law “acknowledges that nobody should be forced to forfeit their hard-earned benefits because of who they are or who they love.” Veterans’ Affairs officials in the state cannot know for sure just how many LGBTQ+ service members will benefit from this legislation. In the same article, NewsTimes writes, “Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Thomas Saadi estimates there are a few hundred who will benefit.”
Why do state benefits matter for LGBTQ+ veterans? These benefits can provide vital healthcare resources for service members. Many veterans cope with physical and mental illnesses and disabilities. Overall, not considering gender identity and sexual orientation, 30% of veterans require medical treatment for severe mental illnesses like depression or PTSD. However, several medical studies have indicated that LGBTQ+ veterans are even more likely to experience mental illness and suicidal ideation. In 2013, Bryan Cochran, a psychology professor at the University of Montana, conducted a study to determine if LGBTQ+ veterans experience more mental health complications than do their heterosexual and cisgender peers. This study took place a couple of years after President Obama repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At the time, Cochran found that 13% of LGBTQ+ members attempt suicide in comparison to 1% of the overall veteran population.
Much has changed since Cochran’s 2013 study. The LGBTQ+ community has made headway against discrimination, such as when the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage.
LGBTQ+ veterans across the country have fought for equal representation.Getty Images
However, LGBTQ+ service members still face steep health disparities. Many veterans experience the risk of violence and cope with mental illnesses. But LGBTQ+ veterans face a double assault of stress. On one side, they experience the stressors from their time serving in the armed forces. On the other, these veterans also experience the social stress of living as a person with a marginalized gender identity or sexual orientation. And these social and emotional stressors can have real, bodily consequences. The American Psychological Association states that the chronic stress can result in increased blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, and even stomach ulcers.
Until now, Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ veterans have not been able to access Veterans’ Affairs healthcare to seek treatment for these physical and psychological complications. LGBTQ+ individuals, veterans included, struggle to access medical care. According to the Human Rights Watch, LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to be uninsured as non-LGBTQ+ patients.
But Allie-Brennan’s new law paves the way for LGBTQ+ service members to receive the medical treatment that they have long been denied. These benefits will not automatically heal Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ veterans. Even though these service members can now access health coverage through the Veterans’ Affairs office, that doesn’t mean that these members will receive immediate or comprehensive care. Veterans’ Affairs health programs are notoriously overbooked, and service members can wait for weeks or even months to receive health services.
Despite these delays, Connecticut has provided LGBTQ+ veterans with the opportunity to access the healthcare that they desperately need. This law is an important first step in improving health outcomes for service members of all genders and sexual orientations.