The high cost of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

By Tim Grieve

Published February 25, 2005 1:18PM (EST)

We've always known that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy came at a cost. Now we know what it is -- at least in financial terms. In a new report, the General Accounting Office says that the Pentagon has spent nearly $200 million replacing troops forced out of service by the policy since it took effect in 1994.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon reported that it was discharging fewer gay men and lesbians than before. Still, the GAO says nearly 9,000 troops have been forced out of service since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took effect. Countless others have simply left the services quietly as a result of the policy; the GAO's $200 million cost estimate doesn't -- and really couldn't -- account for troops who simply chose not to re-enlist rather than put up with the discriminatory policy or risk expulsion down the road.

Aaron Belkin, the director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told the Associated Press that the GAO report confirms that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" "harms military readiness." The report notes that significant numbers of the gay troops ousted from the military held posts important enough that the Pentagon typically offers re-enlistment bonuses for them. Many held intelligence-related jobs.

At least some lawmakers think it's time to revisit "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Rep. Marty Meehan, the Massachusetts Democrat who requested the GAO study, is considering legislation that would prohibit the military from discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation. It's hard to imagine that either the Bush White House or the Republican-controlled Congress would have much interest in increasing the number of homosexuals in the military. But such a move would not be without precedent; the British Royal Navy, which until 2000 banned gays altogether, has just announced a plan to begin recruiting gay men and lesbians. And as violence in Iraq keeps the U.S. military bogged down and stretched thin, even George W. Bush might come to think that an openly gay soldier is better than no soldier at all.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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