Hi all. This blog is back after a long hiatus. I'm hoping to get other folks to post on it, but for now it's just me. The post below is a repost from something I wrote for a minor publication, before their edits.
Last week, Senate Democrats failed to get the 60-vote majority they needed to move ahead with the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law that forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. In the debate preceding the vote, Republicans provided the usual criticisms of the lax spending of the Democratic administration. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lamented the fact that we now have “more spending, more debt,” Judd Gregg and John McCain commiserated with each other over the “unprecedented situation of debt and deficit,” while the Senate’s newest member Scott Brown made an impassioned plea to rein in the “out-of-control spending.”
Oddly enough, none of these fiscal hawks – and DADT proponents – noted that their position on the deficit was inconsistent with their take on DADT. Rather, it was Senators Boxer, Collins (who eventually voted to filibuster because of procedural objections to the vote) and Franken, all DADT opponents, who focused on DADT’s fiscal impact. And each of these Senators pointed to a fact that most supporters of DADT, otherwise avid opponents of spending, refuse to acknowledge – DADT costs are astronomical, when measured not just in broken lives and ruined careers, but less metaphorically, in dollars and cents.
As a 2009 report released by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School explained, the military spends between $22,000 to $43,000 per person to replace the nearly 13,000 service members discharged under DADT, and train their replacements. It concluded that the policy has cost the military between $290 million and over half a billion dollars since its inception. As Senator Collins noted, these numbers do not include the administrative and legal costs of investigations and hearings, and the military schooling of gay troops such as pilot or linguistic training. Most discharges occurred within 2.5 years of the commencement of service – long before the government could begin to recoup their investment in the fired servicemember.
Add to that the costs that numerous ongoing military missions have incurred by the discharges of those with critical, difficult-to-replace skills such as proficiency in Arabic. According to a 2005 General Accounting Office Report, 8% of the total number of the discharges between 1994 and 2003 had critical skills, such as training in a foreign language. As news organizations have reported, the scarcity of those with foreign language skills has jeopardized military, diplomatic and intelligence operations, the failure of which would impose large, albeit hard-to-measure costs, on American government.
Moreover, the 2009 Williams Institute Report notes that lifting DADT restrictions would attract an additional 36,700 individuals to the military. This would not only reduce the need for recruitment efforts – and costs – but also help staff critical military missions. This could greatly improve the overall functioning of the military during a time of increased personnel shortages, and reduce the setbacks military missions may suffer due to personnel shortages.
Of course, the costs imposed by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell spill beyond the budgetary balance sheet; the policy also imposes enormous costs on LGBT people in the armed services. As Air Force flight nurse Marjorie Witt recounted at a recent trial on the constitutionality of DADT, she was forced to keep secrets from her colleagues throughout her career. When she was outed, she was forced to come out to her parents, and lost her job and benefits after 18 years of service, as a result of the policy. On Friday, the U.S. District Court who heard her case found the policy unconstitutional. Yet, Witt is only one of the nearly 66,000 gay and lesbian individuals serving in the armed forces, according to a 2010 Williams Institute estimate, who live under the constant threat of dismissal. Moreover, the costs of the policy are increasingly borne by women and ethnic and racial minorities – as the 2010 Williams Institute report noted, women and minorities constitute 1/3 of the DADT discharges, up from 1/4 in the late 1990s.
Supporters of DADT not see eye to eye with those such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Colin Powell who support the repeal of DADT. Yet, even as they call for greater government savings, they must acknowledge the fact that DADT imposes costs – upon the men and women who have loyally served their country – and upon every tax-paying American citizen.