An 82-year-old veteran just received an honorable discharge six decades after the U.S. Army kicked him out for being gay, the CBS News reported.
When a 21-year-old Donald Hallman was “undesirably” discharged by the U.S. Army in 1955 under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” he was so scared and ashamed that he burned all his military records, except for a beloved dog tag he hid away in a keepsake box.
Hallman served in the army from 1953 to 1955. He was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.
As a gay man, Donald was able to live a relatively normal life. He got married to a woman he met at work and raised three children with her. He hid his sexual orientation from everyone, never once mentioning the real reason why he was discharged by the U.S. army.
“I hid it because it would have ruined my life,” Mr. Hallman said in an interview at his home in Columbus, Ohio.
This summer, after half a century, Donald Hallman retrieved the dog tag from his keepsake box and went to the Department of Defense to file an application asking for his discharge status to be upgraded from “undesirable” to “honorable.”
“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where no one can hurt me now,” the veteran said. “I don’t care who knows, and I want to show I was an honorable person.”
Hallman’s upgraded status as a former army veteran wouldn’t have been possible if not for President Obama who repealed the army’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule in 2010.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat based in Ohio, co-sponsored a federal legislation to assist gay veterans discharged on account of their sexual orientation in having their military records corrected and finally receiving the benefits denied to them by the army.
According to Brown, around 100,000 veterans were discharged from the army for being gay. Gay veterans also lost benefits they had earned serving in the military.
In a YouTube video posted by Stonewall Columbus in November 2015, Donald recounts how he was discharged by the army following an encounter with a man on the sidewalk of Frankfurt.
“I was on an airplane back to New York and discharged almost immediately,” Halllman said. “Just bang, bang, bang… no explanation, no conversation, no nothing.”
There are many gay veterans just like Hallman. Some had it worse than him, simply on account of the fact that the discharge barred them from getting employment opportunities elsewhere. In a society where gay people are often disrespected, most gay veterans suffered with depression and isolation for decades following their discharge from the US.. army.
“After all these years, I want to tie up loose ends,” said Jim Estep, a retired professor who was discharged by the army in 1964. “It’s a way of getting the government — that faceless entity — in some way to acknowledge the authenticity of my life and my contribution to the country.”
In 2011, an administration policy was established to grant an honorable discharge to any veteran who was kicked out of the army for being gay, unless there are aggravating factors involved. According to Department of Defense records, around 80 percent of nearly 500 requests submitted since 2011 were granted an honorable discharge.
While progress has been made, the process of upgrading the discharge status of gay veterans was far from smooth-sailing. For one, getting an upgrade can take years, not to mention the bureaucratic roadblocks that hinder the gay veterans from having their military records corrected.
The Restore Honor to Service Members Act, a bill whose objective is to streamline the process of upgrading discharge statuses for gay veterans, had been postponed in 2013, with no signs of being reconsidered for the present year.
[Image via Stonewall Columbus/YouTube]