Sen. Mark Udall said he was moved to introduce legislation repealing the nation’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy banning gay service members from serving openly in part because the policy has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 17 years and negatively effected the lives of thousands Americans dedicated to their country.
“I feel very strongly about this. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged in the last decade,” he told reporters on a conference call today. “These are jet pilots, translators of Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun– languages so important in the War on Terror. All the skill sets needed in the military are met by gay Americans.”
Udall said that government accountants have estimated that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has cost the country more than $200 million since its implementation. The process of identifying gay members and discharging them is costly and counterproductive, he said.
“We train these men and women and prepare them for duty. It’s a major investment in time and energy and money.Then we spend all this time and energy and money discharging them.”
Although the Department of Defense has already stated a commitment to repealing the policy and has set in motion a year-long study to do so, supporters of the repeal fear that the DOD might hedge on that commitment and that in the meantime more hundreds or thousands of gay soldiers will continue to face disciplinary action based only on the fact that they’re gay.
The legislation introduced today by Udall along with main sponsor Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and 11 other lawmakers, would repeal the policy immediately upon becoming law, ending any related discharges.
Udall, however, told the Colorado Independent that the soonest the bill would be considered by the Senate would be May, when it would be included with the year’s large Defense Authorization legislation. The nearest end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” then would come in the fall. That delay is part of why Udall is committed to acting now. Waiting for the Department of Defense study to be concluded might mean years would pass before the policy was repealed and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges halted.
Consideration of the Defense Authorization bill, Udall pointed out, is a broad bipartisan process where lawmakers decide on the level of benefits service members receive, for example, who gets new stars, how many planes to build.
“I’m confident we’ll have GOP support on this,” Udall said of the DADT repeal. He pointed out big-name Republicans who now support the repeal. “[Dick] Cheney has said it is time to reexamine the policy. [Colin] Powell has said he has changed his mind about it.”
Udall said he agrees with what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen said in February.
“Like Adm. Mullen said, we can’t ask people to lie about who they are in order to serve our country.”
The U.S. would not be the first country to accept openly gay personnel. The Israeli military, the British military and the Australian military have all adopted policies that offer gay recruits the same rights and privileges as straight recruits.
“This policy hasn’t shown us in the best light,” said Udall.