CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – LGBTQ veterans who were discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy are closer to being eligible for full veteran benefits from the state.

The state Senate unanimously approved an amendment during its budget debate that would give those veterans access to state benefits. The Department of Defense policy was in effect from 1994 to 2011 and barred openly LGBTQ people from serving in the military. More than 14,000 service members were discharged.

Last fall the Department of Veterans Affairs issued new guidance that those vets should be eligible for federal veteran benefits. State Senator John Velis filed the amendment to reflect that guidance in Massachusetts law.

“For far too long, thousands of courageous individuals have been told that they are not worthy of the same benefits that their comrades and counterparts earned. That their service, and their sacrifice is not worth the same. All because of who they are and who they love,” said Senator Velis, who is Chair of the Veterans & Federal Affairs Committee. “The years of trauma, abuse and harassment caused by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell cannot be undone. But we must do everything in our power to ensure that LGBTQ Veterans across the Commonwealth have the same access to benefits and services that other Veterans have.”

“LGBTQ Veterans that were discharged under the now defunct, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, served their country proudly and are every bit as entitled to state Veteran benefits as any other service member. We are grateful to Senator Velis for his recognition of their service and his leadership in ensuring that their sacrifice will be honored by restoring the benefits that they rightfully earned.” said Tanya Neslusan, Executive Director of MassEquality.