PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After September 11, 2001, Erica Leigh Gabor felt the calling of the United States Marine Corps. So she enlisted and found her passion.
“I’m good at it. I’m damn good at it,” she says. “I was the epitome of a female Marine.”
To this day, she talks proudly about her service which included a tour in Iraq in 2005. She earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal but also came home with a traumatic brain injury received in combat and post traumatic stress. The PTSD, however, was not from her injury she says.
“I suffer from PTSD more so from why I was discharged,” she says.
Gabor was kicked out of the Corps because she was outed as gay. She hasn’t touched her uniform since.
“When I earned that title ‘Marine’ in March 2004, it was the best day of my life,” she says. “When I took this [uniform] off in August 2006, it was the worst day of my life.”
Gabor got became so depressed, she attempted suicide in June 2010.
For her and thousands of others discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” its repeal on Tuesday comes too late. With only a “General Discharge” – neither honorable nor dishonorable – Gabor lost her benefits under the G.I. Bill but more importantly, she lost her medical benefits. She only got them back with the help of former Congressman Patrick Murphy, who spearheaded the drive to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I was determined to make sure we did what was right,” even though he received death threats against his family Murphy told us on Tuesday. “It was tough … I knew that it wasn’t about my race for Congress or any election. It was about doing what’s right for the country.”
Now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is history, Gabor is happy, but she isn’t satisfied. She says it’s “bittersweet” because she lost much more than her medical benefits. She lost her life’s work.
She now plans to reapply to the Department of Defense to upgrade her discharge to “Honorable.” No matter what happens, she says she will always wear her Marine Corps dog tags.
“It’s who I am. I am a Marine,” she says. “I will forever be a Marine.”
Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3