Military losing gay troops

WASHINGTON (AP) – Hundreds of highly skilled troops, including many translators, have left the armed forces because of the Pentagon’s rules on gays, at a cost of nearly $200 million, the first congressional study on the impact of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy says.

The estimated cost was for recruiting and training replacements from 1994 through 2003 for the 9,488 troops discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps because of the policy, the General Accountability Office estimated.

The study released Thursday said the government does not collect financial information specific to each individual’s case. The investigative arm of Congress estimated the costs based on how much the Pentagon and each service branch spends to recruit and train the general military population.

Other costs, such as for discharging officers, are not included.

Congress approved the policy in 1993. It allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Of those who left, 757 held critical jobs for which the Pentagon offers re-enlistment bonuses because of their specialized nature, such as data processing technicians and translators.

Many who were discharged had intelligence-related jobs. Also, 322 spoke foreign languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Mandarin, which the Pentagon has called critical skills amid threats from terrorists.

The report said most gays left within the first 2 1/2 years of enlistment.

"What the research has found and what the General Accountability Office confirmed is that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ harms military readiness," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The center released its own similar study last year.

In a response to the General Accountability Office report, David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, stressed that the number of those in the military who left because of the policy made up only 0.37 percent of all troops discharged during the decade.

The Pentagon said this month that the number of service members discharged under the policy declined last year by 15 percent – to 653 – and has fallen by nearly one-half since 2001, when 1,227 were discharged.

Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, who requested the study, is working on legislation that would repeal the policy enacted under the Clinton administration.

The proposal would ban discrimination in the military based on one’s sexual orientation. It also would contain a measure designed to prevent the military from re-instituting "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

In December, 12 gays expelled from the military because of their sexual orientation sued the government, citing a Supreme Court ruling that state laws making homosexual sex a crime were unconstitutional. The Bush administration has asked a federal court to dismiss the suit.