Pro Bono News
Major Law Firms Join OutServe-SLDN’s Veteran Discharge Upgrade Project
Monday, April 22, 2013
OutServe-SLDN announced that two major law firms have joined its ongoing project to assist those discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) or the prior regulations prohibiting gay and lesbian service in the military seeking changes to their discharge paperwork. The firms DLA Piper and Winston & Strawn will represent veterans pro bono to make changes to their discharge paperwork that includes upgrading of discharge characterizations, modifying the narrative reason for discharge, or changing the reentry code. Guidance from the Department of Defense, released in September 2011 as DADT repeal was taking effect, provides the pathway for making changes and upgrades. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 veterans may qualify for such assistance, and OutServe-SLDN has released an online toolkit that veterans may use to get the process started. “Winston & Strawn is honored to partner with OutServe-SLDN to restore the dignity and honor that these former military personnel deserve,” said Peter Perkowski, Winston & Strawn partner and OutServe-SLDN Board member. “It is our hope that by upgrading their discharge characterizations, our clients can wipe away the insults of the past that these records represent.” “This project aligns perfectly with DLA Piper’s long-standing commitment to providing legal and community services to veterans and active duty military personnel across the country,” said Roberta Ritvo, senior pro bono counsel at DLA Piper. “As we continue to expand and deepen our pro bono support for veterans, we are honored to collaborate with OutServe-SLDN to help build upon the remarkable work they’ve done for LGBT veterans to date and extend these services to the thousands of other veterans eligible to upgrade their discharge paperwork.” Since the initiative was launched in 2011, OutServe-SLDN has assisted more than 240 veterans seeking to upgrade or change their discharge paperwork. “Veterans who come to us for this assistance often do so for reasons of personal dignity and setting the record straight about their honorable service to our country. Just as often, there's also a very practical reason, like urgently needed medical benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs or issues of employment. Employers routinely request discharge paperwork when reviewing job applicants who have prior military service. A narrative reason for separation of 'homosexuality' or a negative re-entry code can mean forcing veterans to out themselves to future employers or being denied employment altogether," McKean said. Through the online tool, veterans who believe they may qualify are able to connect with the National Archives Veterans Records Office to obtain copies of their discharge paperwork, as well as provide necessary information to OutServe-SLDN in just a few easy steps in order to begin processing. "Since repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ word has spread rapidly about this opportunity, and our attorneys have experienced a surge in calls from veterans seeking our services. The addition of three law firms providing pro bono services will help address this demand. We urge anyone interested in this assistance to contact our office and let us help," said OutServe-SLDN Legal Director David McKean. Since 2011, OutServe-SLDN has served veterans seeking this assistance who were discharged as far back as World War II. An early success was on behalf of Melvin Dwork, a World War II veteran who served in the Navy and was discharged in 1944 for being gay. Dwork sought legal assistance in early 2011 to upgrade his discharge paperwork and it was granted in September 2011. The result was an "honorable" discharge in place of the previous "Undesirable" characterization, allowing Dwork to qualify for long overdue benefits, and with them, in his words, the satisfaction "of righting a wrong" that was nearly 70 years old. Veterans interested in more information should visit www.outserve-sldn.org/page/s/vetdischargechanges or call OutServe-SLDN’s free hotline at 1-800-538-7418. About DLA Piper: DLA Piper is a global law firm with 4,200 lawyers located in more than 30 countries throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, positioning it to help companies with their legal needs anywhere in the world. In certain jurisdictions, this information may be considered attorney advertising. For more information, visit www.dlapiper.com. About Winston & Strawn: Winston & Strawn LLP is an international commercial law firm with 15 offices across North America, Asia and Europe. More information about the firm is available at www.winston.com. About OutServe-SLDN: OutServe-SLDN is the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel with more than fifty chapters and 6000 members around the world It works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OS-SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org.