Don't Ask, Don't Tell Follies

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

WITH THE U.S. military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hardly a surprise that recruitment for the all-volunteer forces would be a challenge. This week, the Government Accountability Office released a report showing that military recruiters are increasingly behaving inappropriately in order to get people to sign up. According to the GAO, between fiscal 2004 and 2005, "allegations and service-identified incidents of recruiter wrongdoing increased from almost 4,400 to about 6,600 cases; substantiated irregularities increased from just over 400 to almost 630 cases; and criminal violations more than doubled from just over 30 to almost 70 cases." These remain a tiny minority of recruiter actions. But the increase highlights the irrationality of another set of figures released in recent days: the growing number of gay men and lesbians being booted from the military despite being well trained and fully qualified to serve.

According to data from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which assists gays in the military and pushes for an end to the country's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the military discharged 742 people from the four services and the Coast Guard last year -- up about 11 percent from the year before.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, discharges of gay men and lesbians had been declining. In 2001, the military kicked out 1,273 servicemembers; by 2004, that was down to 668. But the trend has reversed. Apparently, keeping the military clear of gay people who wish to serve their country is worth generating additional pressure on recruitment.

"Don't ask, don't tell" has failed completely. It insults those who would serve their country even as it deprives the military of their service. And while the policy has led to the dismissal of more than 11,000 people since its inception, it manifestly does not create an all-straight military. Gay men and lesbians continue to serve in all of the forces with honor and valor. It is long past time for Congress and the Bush administration to change the law and let them do so without denying who they are.

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