March is Women’s History Month, and this article is dedicated to military and veteran women and focuses on issues specifically relevant to them.
To me, nothing is more important than the Justice for Women Veterans Act, H.R. 2385. This bill would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on women who were involuntarily separated or discharged from the military between 1951 and 1976 because of pregnancy or parenthood.
The GAO would also recommend ways that the Department of Veterans Affairs can improve access to resources for those women. It is documented that as many as 7,000 service women were involuntarily discharged from the Armed Forces as a result of pregnancy.
During this time period, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order in 1951, which would allow the armed services to discharge a female service member if she became pregnant, gave birth to a child, or became a parent by adoption or a stepparent. Frustratingly, the armed services made this option a mandate without much room to file exemptions for.
From 1951 to 1976, abortion was only legal in a few states and even then, it was limited. By 1965, the Supreme Court ruled on Griswold v. Connecticut, which rolled back state or local laws that had outlawed the use of contraception by married couples. So, during this time frame, a single military woman could be sexually assaulted, and likely would become pregnant without contraception or ability to abort. If this were the case, she would also be summarily discharged.
By 1971, the military published a series of waivers for the pregnancy-caused discharges. They also stopped automatically excluding female recruits who were already parents. But these policies were not completely revoked until the 2nd District Court ruled that the Marine Corps discharge policy violated a pregnant female marine’s Fifth Amendment due process clause. This was recognized as a violation because the policy was set up as a presumption that any pregnant service member was permanently unfit for duty.
When Democratic Representative Julia Brownley introduced Bill H.R. 2385, she was concerned about the “irregularities in discharges that may have left these women without the veteran’s benefits that they earned.”
This concern is not unfounded, a similar review investigated other-than-honorable discharges of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
The GAO found that almost 92,000 service members were discharged for misconduct between 2011 and 2015, and two-thirds of these veterans were diagnosed with TBI, PTSD, or other mental health conditions. A statement released concerning the investigation, noted the military was inconsistent in considering whether service-related medical issues contributed to the misconduct.
In honor of these women, contact your elected officials.