Center for American Progress

Re-enlisting Service Members Discharged Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
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Re-enlisting Service Members Discharged Under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” must be accepted for re-enlistment and complete re-entry training to obtain the appropriate rank.

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Once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, Congress and the Defense Department should follow the example of the United Kingdom and make a public offer for service members discharged under the policy to re-enlist provided those men and women currently meet the military’s standards for age, physical fitness, education, and moral behavior. These standards are already prescribed for prior service applicants.

Service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” must be accepted for re-enlistment,
and like other prior service applications they must also complete re-entry training to obtain the appropriate rank. Appropriate re-entry training is proscribed by individual services and is based on the rank and service of the applicant. There should be no variation from these guidelines for men and women previously discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Moreover, these service members should also be asked to follow existing service guidelines for attaining appropriate re-entry ranks. In some cases this may mean being accepted at a lower rank than they had attained before being discharged.

The issue of retroactive compensation is less straightforward. In the United Kingdom service members were able to bring claims against the government after the European Court of Human Rights declared the military’s policy to be in violation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. In Canada the military admitted that its ban on gays and lesbians violated the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But in the United States an act of Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not likely to bear on the legality of discharges previously carried out under the policy.

Thus, while Congress does not have to resolve this issue in order to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it should eventually consider whether the Department of Defense and the country have an obligation to make some compensation available for former service members who were involuntarily discharged solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

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