Despite the passage of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act in December 2010, numbers released today about discharges under the law in the year proceeding the vote serve as a stark reminder of the daily potential impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to servicemembers. According to information obtained today by Servicemembers United and partially confirmed to Metro Weekly by the Department of Defense, the U.S. Armed Forces discharged a total of 261 people in fiscal year 2010, which ran from Oct. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010.
Nearly three-quarters, 180, of the 250 discharges from the four branches under the Department of Defense -- the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy -- came in the "statement" category of discharges. A Department of Defense spokesperson confirmed the total number of DOD discharges to Metro Weekly this evening. Of the remaining 70, 65 discharges were classified in the "act" category and 5 were classified as being marriage-based.
The Army discharged 93 people, the Air Force discharged 64, the Marine Corps discharged 39, the Navy discharged 54 and the Coast Guard discharged 11, according to the documents, a copy of which was provided to Metro Weekly. The Coast Guard, which is under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, did not categorize its 11 discharges in its response to Servicemembers United.
Although most of the DOD branches reported about twice as many "statement" discharges than "act" discharges, the Army reported four times as many "statement" discharges -- 74 -- as "act" discharges -- 18.
Alex Nicholson, the executive director of Servicemembers United, said in a statement, "While this latest official discharge number represents an all-time annual low, it is still unusually high considering that the Secretary of Defense issued a directive half-way through the fiscal year to make it much harder for military units to discharge troops under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
The change referenced by Nicholson was the March changes to DADT separation policies that raised the level of the officer who is authorized to initiate an inquiry or separation proceeding regarding the DADT policy to a general or flag officer in the servicemember's chain of command.
"Despite this law clearly being on its deathbed at the time, 261 more careers were terminated and 261 more lives were abruptly turned upside down because of this policy," Nicholson said.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a statement, "While even one discharge under the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law is too many, the 2010 numbers represent a marked decline from years before.
According to Servicemembers United, National Guard discharges often are not included in the official DOD numbers that are released. Accordingly, the organization said today that "the total unofficial number of servicemembers discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is now at least 14,316."
Sarvis pointed to the numbers as a sign of the need for implementation of the DADT Repeal Act, ending DADT.
"But these numbers underscore the need to accelerate the timeline for training and repeal. The reality is that investigations continue and service members are still in danger of being discharged," he said. "We look forward to certification by Secretary Gates, Chairman Mullen, and the President as we move toward full repeal."
Certification is required under the DADT Repeal Act, followed by a 60-day congressional review period, before DADT is removed from law and repealed in full.
Eileen Lainez, a Defense Department spokesperson, wrote to Metro Weekly in response, noting, "The decision to certify will be made by the Secretary of Defense/Chairman/President when they determine DoD is ready to make this change consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces, and that conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units."
She added, "Training the force is an essential component to ensuring implementation is consistent with these standards. However, certification by the secretary and the chairman does not require a hundred percent of the people to be trained. We're going to try to get to a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can."
Adding a reference to transgender servicemembers, whose status was not addressed in the DADT Repeal Act, Sarvis said, "Until we achieve full equality for all LGBT service members, the job is not done."