All through the Cold War the US Army mandatorily conscripted youth to fight it’s wars. Homosexuality then, was taboo and a criminal offence in the USA. Now, that the policies and laws have changed and the Cold War veterans are aging; it’s high time they receive the warm embrace that they so rightly deserve.
When Tracy Robertson served in the Air Force nearly 30 years ago, she didn’t dare reveal to anyone that she was a lesbian. “We had to be very careful,” said the 54-year-old from Baltimore. “Not only could you get thrown out, but my biggest fear was that you could go to jail.”
That distrust and fear of the military simmered for years after Robertson left the service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the health system for former military personnel, thinks sentiments like this are keeping many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans like Robertson from using the services they are entitled to.
The federal agency is working to embrace the very service members the military once ostracized even as the Trump Administration takes steps that could make such veterans feel unwelcome.
“This is a group that has been long neglected historically and we know that we have to put extra effort into making them feel welcome and creating an environment where they feel comfortable,” said Michael Kauth, a director with the VA’s LGBT Health Program.
Baltimore Veterans Association (VA) has shown the way in this regard. They have taken some proactive measures like placing co-ordinators in hospitals, sensitising doctors, nurses and social workers to be culturally sensitive to these vets. A website was created outlining the rights of these veterans and signs and other marketing materials were placed in the lobby of VA facilities. “We Serve All Who Served,” reads one sign located in a VA annex building in Baltimore. “Excellent Care Has No Boundaries.”
The outreach efforts were started under the Obama Administration after repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allowed lesbian, gay and bisexual troops to serve openly in the military for the first time. Legislation a few years later also lifted a ban on transgender men and women who serve.
The efforts are all appreciable but it will take a long time for mindsets of fear and prejudice to change. “It’s hard to get past fear,” said Jillian Silveira, the LGBT veteran care coordinator for the Baltimore VA. “But we want them to know that we want to be their provider of choice. They deserve the benefits they earned.”
Its high time other VAs follow suit for these veterans who not only enrolled to risk life and limb for country all the while themselves living in fear of being discovered and disgraced. We need to wake up to the fact that patriotism and nationalism are not restricted to the ‘straight’ alone. When any human being, irrespective of sexuality, dons a uniform to fight for his country; they shouldn’t be made to fight internal mental and emotional battles too.
Written by:- Delshad Master