WHAT IS THE REAL COST of implementing the military's discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy against gays in the military?
According to a new study released on Valentine's Day, the cost runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and may be much higher than previously believed.
In fact, it is probably nearly twice as much as previously reported, the study estimates. And the researchers say that the true figure is likely much higher than even they could calculate, because they could not get a lot of the information they needed from the Pentagon in order to do a complete computation.
However, whatever the price tag may be in dollars, there are some costs that you just can't put a monetary value on.
THE PREVIOUS COST ESTIMATE ON how much 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is bleeding taxpayers was done by the General Accounting Office ( GAO ) , an independent research arm of Congress.
In a study released in 2005, the GAO tried to come up with a number for what it cost the government to investigate, discharge and replace members of the military who violated the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.
The GAO report studied the 10-year period from fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 2003. During that time, roughly 9,500 gay and lesbian members of the military were discharged under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law.
According to the GAO study, it cost the government at least $190.5 million to execute the policy during its first decade.
But a new study says the GAO number is woefully wrong. In fact, the new study, conducted by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California-Santa Barbara, says the GAO was off by more than $173 million, or 91 percent.
The University of California study puts the cost closer to $363.8 million. But the panelists say even that number is likely to be woefully low.
THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA STUDY specifically looked at the GAO study, and examined it for errors, flaws and missing figures.
The main problem with the GAO study, the new report says, is that it focused solely on the estimated cost of replacing an ousted member of the military.
The University of California study, on the other hand, included a more detailed analysis of the costs of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' For example, the new study included the cost of the 'lost value' of the full term of a prematurely discharged member of the military.
The study put the estimated cost of training an enlisted officer at around $15,000 to $30,000 per person. The cost to recruit and train officers is much higher, at about $174,000 per person. And the cost of highly specialized members of the military, such as a jet fighter, could be as high as $1.4 million per person.
The University of California team included several notable members, such as William Perry, who was secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, and Lawrence Korb, who was Ronald Reagan's assistant defense secretary. It also included a retired admiral, a retired Army colonel and two professors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
One thing that both the University of California and the GAO estimates had in common was an inability to get all the needed information from the Pentagon to come up with a more accurate figure. Both reports said that the actual cost of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was likely to be higher than they estimated.
'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL WAS PROPOSED by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, when it became painfully obvious that Congress would veto any move he made to ban discrimination against gay and lesbian military personnel and allow them to serve openly.
The policy says that gay and lesbian members of the military may serve in the armed forces as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation, do not engage in 'homosexual conduct' and do not enter into a same-sex marriage or union.
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was adopted by Congress and became law in 1994.
Clinton suggested the policy as what he thought was a compromise that would improve life for gay and lesbian members of the military. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
A 2000 Defense Department inspector general survey showed that 80 percent of gay and lesbian military personnel had heard derogatory comments about gays and lesbians while they served. Even worse, nearly 40 percent said they had witnessed or experienced direct, targeted forms of harassment based on sexual orientation. That included physical assaults as well as verbal harassment.
And the military's discriminatory policy affects women and younger members disproportionately, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington D.C.-based group that advises and aids gay and lesbian members of the military.
A 2002 survey of discharges by SLDN showed that while women made up about 15 percent of the armed forces, they accounted for about 31 percent of discharges under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'
Experts attribute this to what they call 'lesbian baiting:' the phenomenon of identifying women in the military as lesbians for reasons such as refusing a man's sexual advances or for reporting a man for sexual harassment.
Younger people in the military bear the brunt, too, because there is a drastic difference in harassment of gays and lesbians depending on the level of service, which is often related to age. For example, a Defense Department inspector general survey found that 78 percent of gay and lesbian enlisted service members reported experiencing harassment, as opposed to just 2 percent of officers.
OTHER STUDIES HAVE COME UP WITH OTHER FIGURES for the cost to the nation of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Some activist groups, for example, had put the figure at about $250 million. No doubt there will be other studies in the future that come up with differing amounts.
Given the Pentagon's reluctance to release certain information, it's doubtful that we will ever know the 'real' cost of the policy. But we shouldn't forget there are other costs, costs that you can't put a monetary figure on.
What is the cost of living in fear? How much is the price tag for ruining someone's career? And how do you assess the cost of enshrining discrimination?