(WHNT) — 12 years to the day after Congress repealed the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced a proactive review of the military records of veterans who received a discharge under “less than honorable conditions” due to their sexual orientation.

A “less than honorable” discharge can keep an LGBTQ+ veteran from accessing benefits other vets receive, including health care, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loans and college tuition.

When Congress repealed DADT on Sept. 20, 2011, the Military Department Review Boards were instructed to grant requests to change a reason for discharge, a characterization of discharge, and re-entry codes for former service members as long as the original discharge was based solely on DADT and there were no aggravating factors in the veteran’s record, such as misconduct.

So, for years, there has been an available process where an LGBTQ+ veteran can request a correction to their military record.

CBS News reported that an estimated 100,000 LGBTQ+ service members were kicked out of the military from World War II to the repeal of DADT.

However, prior to the DOD’s announcement this month, CBS News reported that just over 1,300 of them (around 1.3%) have had their discharges upgraded.

On Sept. 20, 2023, the DOD announced that it will identify vets discharged during the DADT period (1994-2011). If an upgrade in discharge is warranted, DOD will submit those veterans’ cases to the Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR).

“This new initiative will significantly simplify the process for DADT veterans,” the DOD said online.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a statement on the 12th anniversary of the repeal of DADT:

“As we mark the twelfth anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I want to recognize the service members, DoD civilians, and DoD families who served courageously and forged new pathways for future generations of our Force. Their contributions have made our Armed Forces more representative of the American people, and better equipped to tackle future challenges.

For decades, our LGBTQ+ Service members were forced to hide or were prevented from serving altogether. Even still, they selflessly put themselves in harm’s way for the good of our country and the American people. Unfortunately, too many of them were discharged from the military based on their sexual orientation – and for many this left them without access to the benefits and services they earned. Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for Service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief.  While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient. In the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all Service members and Veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.

The Department values the contributions LGBTQ+ Service members, veterans, and their families have made. I continue to encourage service members who were discharged when this policy was in effect to apply for a record correction through the Military Departments’ Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records.

One of my top priorities as the Secretary of Defense is to do right by our outstanding service members, military families, and civilian employees. They are our greatest strategic advantage over our adversaries. I am incredibly proud of the work DoD is doing to build irreversible momentum toward making sure our Department represents the best of America, at every level.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III

The DOD has more resources on the appeal process for DADT discharges here.