Gays’ Ouster Seen Leaving Gap In Military, Study Finds
WASHINGTON — More than 300 foreign language specialists considered critical in the war on terrorism have been forced out of the military in the past decade because of their sexual orientation, according to the first government study to assess both the warfighting and financial impact of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibits openly gay servicemen.
These soldiers had “some skills in an important foreign language such as Arabic, Farsi, and Korean,” according to a report by the Government Accountability Office to be published next month. At least 54 of the 322 language specialists spoke Arabic — more than twice as many as previous estimates. At the same time, more than 400 additional soldiers discharged under the policy had what the Pentagon considers “critical occupations,” including Navy code-breakers, Army intelligence specialists and interrogators, Air Force air traffic controllers, and Marine Corps counterintelligence specialists.
While some of those dismissed from the military had taken advanced language courses, the report said that many of them had just begun their training.
According to the report, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, a total of 9,488 soldiers have been discharged since 1993 for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and it has cost at least $200 million to recruit and train replacements. It said the taxpayer burden is probably much higher because the analysis did not include other costs also associated with the ban on gays and lesbians — including the impact on the National Guard, Reserve, and Coast Guard — or the investigation and counseling of service members believed to be gay and other administrative expenses related to removing them.
In a written response to the findings, the Department of Defense maintained that despite the loss of critical skills because of the ban on gays and lesbians, the military has dismissed far more service members since 1993 for other reasons. David Chu, defense undersecretary for personnel, said that there had been a “low discharge rate” under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Nevertheless, critics of the policy said the report — the government’s first assessment since the policy was adopted in November 1993 — underscores how the ban on gays and lesbians is hurting military readiness when the armed forces are already stretched thin and finding it difficult to recruit skilled personnel.
“The conventional justification for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been that allowing gays to serve undermines military readiness,” US Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, told the Globe in a statement yesterday. “Now we have the numbers to prove that the policy itself is undermining our military readiness.”
The sheer number of linguists the military discharged took some specialists by surprise, given that the Pentagon urgently needs service members with those skills.
“That really expands on what scholars knew before,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which released its own study of the issue last year. He said previous figures showed only 20 Arabic speakers had been discharged for being gay, while the Government Accountability Office report indicates the number is more than double that.
“They fired a huge percentage of the talent pool just for being gay,” Belkin said yesterday.
The UCSB center was the first to report that nearly 10,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen were ordered out of the military under the ban, taking with them many of the same skills that are now in short supply. The study by the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, is the first detailed examination of the effects of the ban on gays in the military and the related costs.
Gay and lesbian conduct has long been prohibited under military law. But in 1993, after campaigning on a promise to lift the controversial ban, President Clinton reached a compromise with Congress. The new policy, passed into law in November 1993, held that gays and lesbians could serve in uniform as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves and their personal conduct did not alert their superiors.
The Pentagon maintains that the number of discharges has steadily declined since 1993. Last week the Defense Department revealed that 653 gays were dismissed from the military in 2004, the second-lowest number in two decades and roughly half the average yearly totals during the late 1990s. And Chu, after reviewing the findings, said that service members discharged from the military on grounds of homosexuality represent less than 1 percent of the total number of members kicked out for all reasons, including pregnancy, failure to meet weight standards, drug use, or other serious offenses.
Still, the study found that of the nearly 10,000 service members “separated” under the policy, about 8 percent were filling jobs considered among the most important to the military, making them eligible for bonuses up to $60,000 if they reenlist. Linguists made up nearly half. The rest were mechanics, technicians analysts, missile operators, flight engineers, and a variety of other highly trained personnel, the report shows.
Approximately 757 out of 9,488 soldiers discharged for being gay between fiscal years 1994 and 2003 were trained in “critical occupations, identified by [the Department of Defense] as those occupations worthy of selective reenlistment bonuses,” according to the report.
At the same time, the Government Accountability Office, attempting to put a price on the effects of the policy, concluded that the armed forces have spent about $95 million over the last decade “to recruit replacements for service members separated under this policy.” In addition, it estimated that approximately $95 million more was spent to train those replacements in the particular skill sets lost as a result.
The report cautioned, however, that the financial estimates were incomplete and did not include all the probable costs incurred by the military as a result of the ban on gays and lesbians. The Marine Corps, for example, could not estimate training costs, the Pentagon provided data only on active-duty service members discharged for being gay, and other administrative and other costs could not be tallied.
“There are still questions about the true financial cost of the ban,” said
Meehan, who is considering proposing a bill to repeal the law, said two things are made clear in the report. “By discharging competent service members at a time when our troops are already stretched thin, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy incurs hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary costs and purges highly skilled, critical personnel from the service,” he said in his statement.