Don't Ask, Don't Tell: By the numbers

Today, Congress is holding a hearing on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that lets gay and lesbian Americans serve in the armed forces of the United States only if they hide their sexual orientation.

As a gay American, I am glad to see Congress moving forward on this, and I am pleased to see the President pushing for it.  Today, in some more encouraging news, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff supported the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, saying:
"No matter how I look at the issue," Mullen said, "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens." Noting that he was speaking for himself and not for the other service chiefs, Mullen added: "For me, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
I think that sums it up.  The President also promised to repeal the law in his State of the Union address.

But the injustice done to young men and women in uniform who happen to fall in love with someone of the same gender has cost them, and our country, dearly.  Since the enactment of this policy that forces our profiles in courage to be cowards about their sexual orientation and their families, over 13,500 brave Americans have been discharged for the crime of laying their lives on the line to protect their fellow citizens while gay.  At the last year's Netroots Nation, I went to meet Dan Choi and a Bill Clinton rally broke out!  Lt. Choi is one such brave American, a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran, whose discharge is now pending.

The cost has been great of this unfair policy - to LGBT Americans, to our military, to our security, and to our treasury.  So what is the dollar cost?  A Blue Ribbon Commission, made up of professionals with sterling credentials in defense policy, both civilian and uniformed was founded in 2005 in response to a GAO study requested by Rep. Marty Meehan about the cost of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy.  The Commission concluded thusly:
In February 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled, “Financial Costs And Loss Of Critical Skills Due to DOD's Homosexual Conduct Policy Cannot Be Completely Estimated.” GAO found that the costs of discharging and replacing service members fired for homosexuality during the policy’s first ten years, from fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 2003, totaled at least $190.5 million.

However, oversights in GAO’s methodology led to both under- and overestimations of the financial cost of implementing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” By correcting these oversights, and after careful analysis of available data, this Commission finds that the total cost of implementing “don’t ask, don’t tell” between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 2003 was at least $363.8 million, which is $173.3 million, or 91 percent, more than originally reported by GAO. Given that we were not able to include several cost categories in our estimate and that we used conservative assumptions to guide our research, our estimate of the cost of implementing “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be seen as a lower bound estimate.
 Why the discrepancy?  What did the Blue Ribbon Commission look at that the GAO did not?
As we discuss below, the appropriate cost measure for the policy is not the cost of replacing those fired, but rather the value of service years lost from each premature firing.
So, as it turns out, the taxpayers lose $36.4 million every year because of this policy.  The financial cost to our nation is the value of the years lost from the premature firing.  The security cost?  Immeasurable.  The military has discharged 800 mission critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and 9 Farsi linguists at a time when we are fighting terrorist who tend to communicate in, you know, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, etc.  This is happening at a time when our military and other intelligence agencies are hurting for the lack of professionals who can speak, read and write those languages.  How badly are we hurting?
On September 10th, 2001, the United States government intercepted two phone calls placed from Afghanistan between Al Qaeda operatives. "Tomorrow is zero hour," said one of the voices. "The match is about to begin," came another ominous line. The National Security Agency intercepts millions of messages every hour, but these calls came from sources deemed to be high priority. They were, of course, spoken in Arabic, so they made their way to a translator's queue, waiting to be interpreted. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2001 our government did not have enough Arabic linguists to translate the messages quickly. The phone calls were not translated until two days later, on September 12, 2001. It was two days too late.
Our enemies speak English.  So when insurgents and terrorists hack into our $12 million drones, they know what the instructions in it say.  And we, the country that spends more money on Defense than the rest of the world combined, fire our military Arabic linguists because of who they love.

So let's count the costs of this policy by the numbers, shall we?
  • 13,500 troops discharged for being gay.  Support our troops?
  • 13,500 families punished for a loved one's willingness to die for his or her country.
  • Many more have had their careers threatened. 
  • Countless brave Americans who would not join the military in the first place because they refuse to live a closeted life inside the institution that is supposed brandish honor and integrity.
  • At $36.38 million a year, it cost our military, in 16 years, over $582 million.  That's over half a billion dollars.
  • 800 mission critical troops discharged.
  • 59 Arabic linguists discharged, at least.
  • 9 Farsi linguists discharged, at least.
And possibly, though it might be a stretch, the events of 9/11.  Could we have the message translated in time if we didn't kick all these people out of the military?  Who knows.  The NSA isn't the military, although its head is a high ranking military officer.  But our resources surely would be better invested in more linguists who speak the language of our enemies than in homophobia.

I'm gay.  I'm an immigrant.  I am an American.  I love this country with all my heart.  Is it so wrong for me to want to be a full citizen?  Is it wrong of me to demand that equal justice under law not be just a slogan?  Is it so wrong for Americans brave enough to give their lives in the service of their country to be also brave enough to love openly?  The first wounded American soldier was Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay soldier who did almost lose his life in the service of our country.  Why do we live in a country that allows a gay soldier to be wounded in a war but not celebrated for his love?

We should not allow such policies to stand.  Stand with the President.  Stand with members of Congress who want to repeal this policy.  Stand with Eril Alva.  Stand with Dan Choi.  Contact your member of the House and your Senators.  Contact the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.

I leave you with Lt. Dan Choi's reaction on NPR to the President's announcement.  Hear the voice of a soldier, an activist, an American.

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