American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) is a non-profit, non-partisan, chapter-based Veterans Service Organization of active, reserve, and veteran service members dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces, especially the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender current and prior military personnel who have been historically disenfranchised by armed forces policy and discriminatory laws governing military service and benefits.
American Veterans for Equal Rights is the oldest and largest chapter-based, all-volunteer national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Veterans Service Organization in the United States, and the nation’s only LGBT VSO recognized by the Veterans Administration. Members of AVER are not lobbyists, staffers, interns, or politicians. We are veterans of the US military who are proud of our service and dedicated to the success of the armed forces and the equal treatment of all the patriotic men and women who answer the call to defend our nation’s freedom. With chapters across America, AVER provides a unique and safe space where LGBT veterans can honor pride both in our service and our identity as LGBT people. AVER is dedicated to equality for LGBT service members and veterans in all aspects of our armed forces, including recruitment, training, promotions, honors, and benefits. We support our military’s stated commitment to diversity, and we are dedicated to ensuring that the military honors that commitment fully.
For 20 years AVER worked to overturn the discriminatory ban against LGBT service. We believed that removing a policy that was contrary to the military’s primary mission of defending our nation’s freedom would bring our armed forces closer to its core principles, and make for a stronger and more effective military. With the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in 2010, AVER now maintains a close watch to ensure that the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual service members who are now allowed to serve openly receive equal treatment under the military’s new policies. We continue to push for the inclusion of LGB service members as a protected class in the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) Program. Without such protection our LGB service members do not have crucial access to unit level MEO officers who could provide direct and immediate support in cases of harassment or discrimination. As a minority group of Americans who have recently been the victims of official discrimination by the US military, it is only just and logical that LGB service members be protected under the MEO program.
And we will continue to work for full equality and open service for transgender Americans. Despite the fact that transgender veterans were on the front lines of the fight to end DADT, transgender service members did not benefit from the DADT repeal. AVER’s mission of inclusion will not be complete until transgender patriots are allowed to serve honorably beside other members of the military. We will leave no one behind.
Because spousal and family benefits compose a significant part of overall military compensation, the right of same-gender Americans to marry and have their marriages legally recognized is a central focus of our mission. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies equal pay for equal service to the honored United States Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who are legally married to same-gender spouses yet stand guard side-by-side with their heterosexual counterparts, here at home and around the planet, to defend our nation’s liberty, sharing the same risks and the same vital responsibilities, but denied the same basic rights.
According to the Congressional Budget Office report Costs of Military Pay and Benefits in the Defense Budget dated November, 2012, benefits account for approximately two thirds of overall military compensation. Many of these benefits, including health care, housing allowances, joint deployment options, life insurance, survivors benefits, education assistance through the GI Bill, burial benefits, moving expenses, and family support for deployed spouses, are denied by the Defense of Marriage Act to married gay and lesbian service members, their spouses, and their children. Such a blatant denial of the civil rights of our service members is offensive to all justice-loving Americans and dishonors the very freedom that these patriotic men and women risk their lives to defend.
AVER will ensure that LGBT veterans are not only treated with dignity and fairness by the Veterans Administration, but that our vets receive the full benefits and respect to which they are entitled as just compensation for their honorable service to our country and our principles of equality for all Americans. As a VSO, AVER provides advice, support, and referrals to LGBT veterans regarding their rights and benefits, and we help veterans procure the documents they need to access VA services. AVER Veterans Affairs is working closely with the VA as it ramps up efforts to provide LGBT veterans with respectful, relevant, and competent healthcare.
Many LGBT veterans received less-than-honorable discharges because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, both under DADT and prior policies, and are unjustly denied access to their VA benefits. Such discharges can now be upgraded, but the process is complex, slow, and cumbersome. AVER works to help LGBT vets with less-than-honorable discharges get access to legal assistance to help them navigate this process, and we are dedicated to streamlining the discharge upgrade process so vets can access their healthcare and other vital services from the VA. AVER urges the VA to be proactive and flexible, providing services to veterans while in the process of their discharge upgrades.
In addition, AVER is concerned with issues that affect all service members, veterans, and their families, including Military Sexual Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), veterans’ unemployment, and suicide rates that badly demean the honor of our nation and the sacrifices made by all patriots who serve to defend our sacred liberty. We are assisting colleges and universities in their recruitment of veterans and their efforts to develop Veterans Resource Centers to help veteran students better utilize their education benefits and other VA resources. AVER collaborates with local, state, and the national government and private business in developing laws and strategies to help veterans succeed in the transition to civilian life and maximize their benefits.
AVER works to bring healing and wholeness to prior service members who suffer from the psychological wounds of combat. As a chapter-based organization, AVER works to pair recent veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with older veterans who have suffered from the same illness and overcome such challenges as alcohol and drug abuse, thoughts of suicide, and other debilitating effects that often result from such injury. Our ability to pair senior vets who have overcome the effects of PTSD with recent prior service members is one of our greatest strengths as a chapter-based organization.
Finally, AVER works to honor the sacrifices of LGBT service members and value the senior members of the LGBT community who created the ground work for the changes in LGBT civil rights which are now sweeping our nation. We remember our fallen, and we safeguard their history for future generations of LGBT Americans. We recognize and celebrate the hard work and sacrifices made by our senior members, the veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, who have worked so hard and given so much to bring the United States ever closer to our sacred ideals of equal justice, equal respect, and equal responsibility for every American.