By Carlo Muñoz - 01/07/13 09:54 PM EST
In a landmark settlement, the Pentagon has agreed to give full back pay to U.S. service members who were discharged due to their sexual orientation under the military's “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The payouts will be granted to service members dismissed from the military under the now-repealed policy on or after November 2004.
“This means so much to those of us who dedicated ourselves to the military, only to be forced out against our will for being who we are,” former Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Collins said in a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit.
Under "Don’t ask," service members who were honorably discharged automatically had their separation pay cut in half.
The Defense Department will pay a total of $2.4 million to the plaintiffs.
Federal law entitles service members to separation pay if they have been involuntarily and honorably discharged after completing at least six years of service, the ACLU said.
“There was absolutely no need to subject these service members to a double dose of discrimination by removing them from the armed forces in the first place, and then denying them this small benefit to ease the transition to civilian life,” Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, said in Monday's statement.
Congress repealed DADT in 2010, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in the military for the first time. Reversing the policy was one of President Obama’s first-term priorities.