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DAV-funded program helps Marine veteran who  received ‘bad paper’ discharge for sexual orientation 

By Elizabeth DePompei 

For nearly four decades, Marine Corps veteran  

Terry Moylan lived with the crushing weight  of resentment, a burden that never should  have been hers to carry. 

Moylan enlisted in the Marines in 1981, wide eyed and ready to serve her country. By 1983, she  was discharged under other than honorable (OTH)  conditions, with “commission of a homosexual act”  listed on her DD214. 

Moylan said a woman she was dating was under  investigation and that the homosexual act in question  was Moylan’s arm around someone at a party. The  so-called evidence, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. 

“[The investigations] were witch hunts,” Moylan said. In 2021, 10 years after the repeal of the military’s  “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and 37 years after she was  kicked out of the service, Moylan had her discharge  upgraded to honorable. She did so with the help  of The Veterans Consortium’s pro bono Discharge  Upgrade Program. 

“It was almost like a 500-pound weight was lifted off  my shoulders,” she said. “I just carried around all that  baggage for all those years.” 

Since 2019, the upgrade program has been fully  supported by a $1 million grant from the DAV  Charitable Service Trust. It has helped nearly 6,000  veterans since its inception in 2016. A successful  upgrade restores a veteran’s access to health care and  other benefits. The program has an 80% success rate. 

“DAV is proud to support a program that helps  veterans take back the respect and dignity of military  service when it was unfairly cut short,” said National  

Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Policies that wrongly excluded  and harmed gay and lesbian service members may be  in the past, but their painful consequences persist. The  Discharge Upgrade Program is a way to rectify those  injustices.” 

Jim Carlsen, the consortium’s director of business  operations, said the vast majority of the program’s cases  involve veterans who received OTH discharges due  to misconduct ultimately related to trauma or mental  illness that stemmed from military service. A very  small fraction of the program’s caseload involves those  discharged due to homosexuality. 

That’s surprising, Carlsen said, noting that the 2011  repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a clear reversal of the military’s previous stance that “homosexuality  was incompatible with military service.” 

“Our expectation was that we would have seen a  flood of applicants” after that reversal, Carlsen said.  “But we haven’t.” 

More than 13,000 service members were discharged  under “don’t ask, don’t tell” between 1993 and 2011,  according to 2016 data reported by the Associated  Press. That doesn’t account for the thousands of others  discharged under earlier policies. 

Carlsen said it’s hard to know how many of those  discharges were other than honorable and therefore  more likely to prompt someone to seek an upgrade.  And in some cases, there may be aggravating  

circumstances, like misconduct, that might make  someone ineligible for an upgrade. 

But if a service member received an OTH discharge  based solely on sexuality, Carlsen said it’s an easy win. “You can get those upgraded very quickly,” he said. Carlsen speculated that many veterans may not be  aware that they can request to have their discharge  upgraded. Others may be put off by the prospect of  digging up old and painful memories. 

Moylan said her experience of being kicked out of  the Marines—which followed a formal investigation  and hearing—was nothing short of traumatizing. “It was humiliating,” she said. 

When Moylan returned home in 1983, she battled  depression and anxiety, turning to drugs and alcohol  to cope. She wouldn’t even tell people she was a veteran. 

“I had this huge resentment against the Marine  Corps,” she said. “It was almost like I was at a 35-year  bottom.” 

Moylan eventually got sober and into therapy. With an  honorable discharge, she was able to access health care  benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

On Sept. 21, 2021, the VA issued new guidance  instructing benefits claims adjudicators to find that any  veteran discharged due to sexual orientation, gender  identity or HIV status be eligible for VA benefits, as  long as there is nothing else barring the veteran from  receiving benefits. 

But Carlsen said a discharge upgrade can be life changing for veterans, not just because of benefits. “A constant theme here is the veterans wanting to  really clear their name and to show that they honorably  served their country and didn’t deserve to get thrown  out,” he said. 

“They want to be treated as a veteran.” 

Today, when the military comes up in conversation,  Moylan tells people she’s a veteran. The anger she carried  for so long doesn’t feel as heavy as it once did. Pride is  slowly taking its place. 

“I’m just so grateful,” she said. “I’m so grateful  everything worked out.”  

 For more information To learn more  about The Veterans Consortium’s Discharge Upgrade  Program, visit,  call 202-733-3324 or email

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