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Gay and lesbian veterans who were dishonorably discharged from the military in years past because of their sexual orientation would be eligible for state benefits under legislation being crafted by a Sacramento assemblyman.

Democrat Richard Pan vowed Thursday to introduce the legislation when the Legislature reconvenes in January. His announcement came on the eve of the nation's annual Veterans Day.

"Beginning the conversation about how we treat our veterans, who dedicated their lives to our country only to be separated unjustly from the military, is an important step toward equality," Pan said.

Details have not yet been worked out, but Pan said his goal is to ensure provision of state benefits for an estimated 3,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender California veterans who were dishonorably discharged from the military.

The bill would apply only to state benefits provided to veterans, some of which target only disabled, wartime military personnel, or those who were given specific medals of valor or were prisoners of war.

Eligibility criteria varies, but the state's umbrella of veterans benefits includes property tax exemptions, preferences in civil service examinations, college fee waivers, burial in a veterans cemetery, and free or reduced fees for license plates, park passes and hunting and fishing licenses.

Since the federal government repealed its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in September, gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. The controversial policy, adopted in 1993, required homosexuals to keep their sexual orientation private.

Pan's bill will be aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender military personnel who received dishonorable discharges because of their sexual orientation. Most beneficiaries of his bill served during or before the first Gulf War, Pan said.

Gays and lesbians who left military service with honorable discharges already are eligible for state benefits.

No estimate was available Thursday of potential state costs if Pan's measure is passed by the Legislature and signed into law. Pan said he has not decided whether to seek retroactive compensation.

Two gay-rights groups are sponsoring Pan's bill -- Equality California and Sacramento Valley Veterans, whose president Ty Redhouse appeared with Pan at Thursday's news conference.

"In September, we saw the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' which moved our military and our country forward to a better, more equal future," Redhouse said. "This bill will help ensure LGBT veterans who have fought in wars past are not left behind."

Pan's bill would not make gays and lesbians who were forced from the military eligible for federal benefits.



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