Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…DON’T Pay!: On Dan Choi, Gays, and the Military

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Since the implementation of the U. S. Military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in 1993, more than 14,000 gay and lesbian soldiers have been discharged from service. According to the GAO, of those discharged, more than 750 were mission-critical service members and more than 320 had skills in Arabic, Farsi, and Korean languages. Yet, while gays and lesbians with special knowledge and skills were being discharged from the military, the army increased its number of waivers for recruits. According to a 2007 article in the New York Times, military waivers increased 65% from 2003 to 2006. During those years, the Army accepted more applicants who were high school dropouts and applicants who obtained low scores on aptitude tests. The Army also increased its number of “moral waivers” for individuals with criminal pasts. The “sharpest increase” in waivers was for applicants who were guilty of serious misdemeanors—including burglary, robbery, vehicular homicide, and aggravated assault.

In 2008, CNN reported that Pentagon statistics “showed the Army allowed 106 convicted burglars to enlist in 2007, up from 36 the year before. It also granted waivers to 43 recruits convicted of aggravated assault that year, up from 33 a year before; and to 130 people convicted of possession of drugs other than marijuana, a rise from 71 in 2006.”

The easing of recruiting regulations also opened up the doors to applicants who were neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and gang members. A 2005 report written by the Defense Department states: “Effectively, the military has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy pertaining to extremism. If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt … they are likely to be able to complete their contracts.”

In an article in The Colorado Independent last March, Sen. Mark Udall was quoted as saying the following to reporters about the repeal of DADT: “I feel very strongly about this. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged in the last decade. 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.”

It doesn’t make sense to me that the military discharged members with mission-critical and crucial language skills because they were homosexual while it was accepting applicants who were high school dropouts, felons, and members of extremist groups. Go figure.

That’s not the only troubling thing about the DADT policy. Over the years, the U. S. Military has spent more than $200 million “recruiting, training, investigating and replacing gay service members.” The GAO has reported that the ban on gays cost the military $53,000 for each service member who was dismissed from fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2009. In my opinion, that’s a lot of taxpayer money wasted.

It seems, however, that the U.S. Military may be attempting to recoup some of that $200 million by getting gay and lesbian soldiers discharged under DADT to help “foot the bill.” Did you know that the Defense Department has actually been billing those soldiers for the “unearned” portion of their enlistment bonuses, for the cost of educational scholarships and book stipends, and for any unfinished service? The U.S. Military discharged openly gay and lesbian soldiers—people who refused to live a lie—from the military and then charged them because they were no longer working for the military. I guess one could call it a “discharge charge.” Talk about tortured logic!

Most of you have probably heard of Lt. Dan Choi, the West Point graduate, Arab linguist, and Iraq war veteran who was discharged under DADT. In late December, the Defense Department sent Lt. Choi a bill in the amount of $2, 519.18 for the “unearned” portion of his “enlistment or reenlistment bonus.” Well, Choi has refused to pay the bill. In fact, Choi sent a letter to President Obama.

Here is Choi’s letter:

Dear Mr. President:

Today I received a $2,500 bill from your Defense Department Finance and Debt Services. Specifically, you claim payment for “the unearned portion” of my Army contract. Six months after my discharge under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy I have tried to move forward with my life, and I was inspired by your clarion calls for our progress as one nation towards a more just society. I have served my country in combat and I have tried to live my life by the values I learned at West Point in continued service to our nation. To move forward in my own life I have finally sought treatment for Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Insomnia, and Depressive Disorder from the Veterans Affairs Department. But I still find myself on a domestic battlefield for basic dignity as an American citizen. I know I am not alone in this fight because of the desperate cries for help I get from discharged, unemployed, discriminated, and suicidal veterans. I have felt all of their same pains personally. Today I also witness the disgrace of a country that perpetually discovers methods to punish its own citizens for taking a moral stand.

By flagrantly and repeatedly violating an immoral law, I have flagrantly and repeatedly saluted the honor of America’s promise. At West Point, when we recited the Cadet Prayer we reminded ourselves “always to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.” It would be easy to pay the $2500 bill and be swiftly done with this diseased chapter of my life, where I sinfully deceived and tolerated self-hatred under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Many thousands have wrestled with their responsibilities and expedient solutions when confronted with issues of this magnitude. I understand you also wrestle with issues of our equality. But I choose to cease wrestling, to cease the excuses, to cease the philosophical grandstanding and ethical gymnastics of political expediency in the face of moral duty. My obligations to take a stand, knowing all the continued consequences of my violations, are clear.

I refuse to pay your claim.

Dan Choi
Former Army First Lieutenant
West Point Class of 2003

DFAS Account Statement 12/20/2010 (2 pages)

You may also be interested in reading about, Mara Boyd and Anthony Woods, two other members of the military who were discharged under DADT.

Mara Boyd, an Air Force ROTC Cadet,was asked to repay $30,000 to the government for the cost of her college scholarships and book stipends after she came out of the closet.
In wake of repeal, a look back at how ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ failed one servicemember (The American Independent)
Ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ too little too late for gay cadet (The Colorado Independent)

Anthony Woods, a graduate of West Point, was asked to pay back the Army $38,000 in tuition money.
Coming Out From Life Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (NPR)

It looks like our government needs to do more than repeal DADT. It should stop sending bills to gay and lesbian soldiers who weren’t allowed to finish their terms of military service to their country.


For Further Reading:
Democrats ask DOD to allow ousted gays to appeal for honorable discharge (Stars & Stripes)

Neo-Nazis are in the Army now: Why the U.S. military is ignoring its own regulations and permitting white supremacists to join its ranks. (Salon, 6/15/2009)

Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts (New York Times, 7/7/2006)

Udall: DADT waste of time, energy, money (The Colorado Independent, 3/3/2010)


Huffington Post

The Colorado Independent

Raw Story

The American Independent

The Washington Independent

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (DADT Discharges 1994-2006)

The New York Times: (


Stars and Stripes

37 thoughts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…DON’T Pay!: On Dan Choi, Gays, and the Military”

  1. Hiroshi – I’d agree with you, except for one thing.

    DADTDP – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue – which is what the regs actually said, was not being enforced by anyone.

    Soldiers *were* asked. It was standard procedure. They were certainly pursued too.

    The law wasn’t being enforced, not the way it was originally intended, and the way Gen Colin Powell described it.

  2. As much as DADT sucked/was unconstitutional/whatever else you want to argue (and I won’t disagree) it was a law that every service member is briefed on upon entering the service. It is their responsibility not only to abide by it but also to enforce it. The US military falls not only under US law but also the UCMJ (uniform code of military justice.) These people are not being “punished” by having to repay these debts. Each of these benefits is given with a host of commitments that must be met in order to receive them and not to have to pay them back (monetarily.)
    Choi had to pay back his signing bonus for time he did not serve because he broke the current law in the same way another person would have to pay back their bonus if they failed too many physical fitness tests and was separated or failed to show up for work on time too many times and was separated. Simply he did not meet his obligations and was separated and must then pay back the cost of the benefits of which he failed to meet his obligations for. It is the same for all of the other stories I have read. While I do not agree with DADT it was a law that was in effect and therefore must be followed or the consequences paid. A West Point graduate should have learned as much if a simple enlisted man like myself with no college education can figure it out.

  3. I’m not surprised the CYA(cover your ass)brigade is about to suck up even more $$$$ from the already sore bottomed regular citizen…

  4. Apologies for my usual risible job of proofreading. “Not himself” should read “out himself” and “his ago” should read “his aim.”

  5. Rae, viewed purely as a matter of contract law I expect you’re right about the case.

    The circumstances are broader than that, though. Enforcing such contracts would not be in the public interest. Choi is highlighting that fact in a rather prominent, high risk manner very much in keeping with his original decision to not himself on The Rachel Maddow Show.

    I have my doubts as to the wisdom of his strategy, but his ago is a commendable one: to shame the government out of its backstabbing policy of chasing those it has kicked out because of its own petty and blatantly homophobic rules.

  6. Rae,

    Do you think that if a US law or policy is unjust or discrimantory that an individual should just “grin and bear it” or try to repeal/change it?

    DADT was a discrimnatory policy. Do you believe that felons should have more rights than gays and lesbians?

  7. Lt. Choi signed a contract. That contract included DADT. It was Choi, not the Army, who made the decision to violate that contract. As a benefit for extending his service Lt. Choi was given a retention bonus based on the number of years extended. Lt. Choi has a contractual obligation to repay that portion of his extension bonus that he did not earn.

  8. Thank you for the additional links and information Elaine. It is disturbing that the actual price of the new contracts haven’t been disclosed. The cost of mercenaries is enormous compared to the cost of military personnel and the public needs to fold that into their decision-making regarding weather or not to support a war.

  9. Oversight Of Private Security Contractors Still A Concern Three Years After Massacre In Iraq (9/15/2009)

    Meanwhile, the Obama administration is increasing its dependency on security firms. To make up for the withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs there, from 2,700 to 7,000. And more contractors of all types are headed to Afghanistan to support the troop surge there.

    But according to Milazzo, who authored the new report, there is still some ambiguity regarding whether the U.S. has jurisdiction over all private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “it would be reckless not to clarify that criminal jurisdiction before deployment.”

    The reporting, investigating and prosecuting of wrongdoing by contractors all remain areas of concern, she said. For instance, she said, the Department of Justice does not appear to be pursuing these cases enthusiastically.

  10. Lottakatz,

    “Right off the bat though one of the advantages of these new policies would be that the reliance on contractors might lessen which is something that I think would be a good direction to move in.”

    I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I know that some time ago Jeremy Scahill reported that there were more contractors in Afghanistan than there were soldiers. Contractors have been involved in all kinds of covert operations and with security of diplomats.

    From Wired (9/29/2010)
    Despite Clinton Pledge, State Dept. to Pay Out Billions More to Mercs

    Get ready to meet America’s new mercenaries. They could be the same as the old ones.

    A new multibillion-dollar private security contract to protect U.S. diplomats is “about to drop” as early as this week, say two State Department sources, who requested anonymity because the contract is not yet finalized and they are not authorized to speak with the press.

    So much for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s one-time campaign pledge to ban “private mercenary firms.”

    Neither source would say which private security firms have won the four-year contract or how much it will ultimately be worth. The last Worldwide Protective Services contract, awarded in 2005, went to Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Rough estimates place that contract’s value at $2.2 billion.

    This one is likely to be even more lucrative. That’s because this time, the reduction and forthcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq is causing the State Department to splurge on private security.


    From ProPublica (9/23/2010)
    This Year, Contractor Deaths Exceed Military Ones in Iraq and Afghanistan

  11. There are a couple of things happening with the armed forces that are of note, DADT is being repealed, the quals for joining are being relaxed and there is consideration to end the fallacy that women are not serving in locations where the enemy is directly engaged- official combat duty assignments are on the horizon.

    This should have the effect of growing the armed forces as well as making them more flexible. I’m wondering if policy makers have something in mind that requires a larger, more flexible force.

    Right off the bat though one of the advantages of these new policies would be that the reliance on contractors might lessen which is something that I think would be a good direction to move in.

    The lowered standards are problematic. As I recall the conventional wisdom was that young men, headed down a anti-social path were often given the advice to join up or face criminal sanctions. The idea being that they would have a structured environment, leadership models, training in self discipline and training in working effectively with a group. The army could be a positive force to provide training that had not been garnered elsewhere. I don’t know if that’s a cultural myth or actually happened. If it did happen I’m wondering how it worked out?

    If it worked out well (or even passably well) for the armed forces it would seem that the trend is to do officially what had been hidden. It strikes me that all of these changes are consistent in that one regard. They simply acknowledge and take official responsibility for what already exists.

    (No links this time, I think my source material may have had embedded but non-highlighted links in them causing my last posting to disappear)

  12. Metro,
    Thanks for your touching story. It was brave of you to share it with us. I am sorry that this nation is learning its lessons of true equality a littel late for your former partner. Maybe Lt. Choi will be able to stop this continued discrimination.

  13. This story and your comments moved me…My story is long before dont ask dont tell….1966 South Carolina Shaw AFB……. I was 18 years old…never had been with man or woman….Oh I knew I was different but back then, well hell I was stupid about sex… I made a good friend at basic at Lackland AFB and we ended up in South Carolina with most of our platoon….We were both very inexperenced as for as sex went… gay marriage wasnt much of a topic back then…Anyway we experimented… I wont lie we had a great time with some shame…back then all gays had shame I think.. I was really confused I told one of my really really close buddies about it looking for advise…he turned us in….Well all hell broke loose…here we were I had just turned 18 and my roomie was still l7….but you would have thought we had robbed a bank… thugs from I believe it was the OSI treated us very badly… and the chaplain just kept tellimg me I was sick and going to hell…long story short…They threw both of us out with Undesireable Discharges….I guess I all made me tougher my buddy didnt manage so well he committed suicide some months later….It was my fault…If I had kept my mouth shut my friend might still be alive..

    Sorry about taking up this time…I havnt talked about any of this in almost 50 years… Lt Choi you are in my thoughts

  14. Re: 7 days in May

    The banning of ROTC from colleges all over the country as the result of the Vietnam War has had a terribly pernicious effect on the officer corps. According to one teacher at West Point, over half the cadets are from Liberty University or similar institutions, and make no secret that they have a greater commitment to God’s Holy Laws than Man’s – including the US constitution.

    The US Air Force Academy is now unashamedly Dominionist, with attendance at Evangelical functions not exactly compulsory… unless you want a promotion.

    The email, published by Veterans Today, applauds the MRFF from the “underground” and indicates that the academy is “literally overrun with Christian conservative fanatics.”

    The MRFF is also demanding the DoD pressure the USAFA to publicly release the results of a study of the religious climate at the academy.

    Academy leadership announced last month that the results would not be released, which angered the anonymous cadet who contacted the MRFF.

    Results of the so-called “Climate Study” leaked to the press, and “353 cadets (almost 1 out of every 5 survey participants) reported having been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing, and 23 cadets (13 of them Christians) reported living ‘in fear of their physical safety’ because of their religious beliefs,” according to the MRFF.

    The email describes a group of cadets who don’t fit the Protestant evangelical stereotype; they’re Catholics, mainstream Protestants, LGBT, atheists or agnostic. They tell Weinstein that his earlier advice to “trust the system” and take their grievances up the chain of command has failed, and they are forced to pretend to be something they are not. In order to achieve and prosper in the academy, these cadets pretend to be evangelicals and even attend Bible studies to avoid being “outed.”

    If those on the Left claim that only Theocratic Fascists would join the US military for long enough, then pretty soon that will be believed – and only Theocratic Fascists will join. I don’t think that’s a good idea, and yes, I blame the knee-jerk aniti-military Loony Left for this situation.

  15. rafflaw – if you think Obama’s “progressive” according to your definition of the word, I have a wonderful Harbour Bridge to sell you.

    He’s a political hack. I’m sure that at one point, he had ideals. So did Hillary Clinton. But he’s now a Chicago Machine Politician. If he could definitely get one more vote by re-instating DADT than he would from repealing it, he’d do that in a heartbeat.

    He’s also bored with being President. Too much like hard work, and it requires leadership, not “community organisation” Tammany-Hall style.

    I’m a conservative, by the way, right of centre by Australian standards. About where Olympia Snowe is. So take my opinions with a grain of salt.

    The tragic thing is that I think he’s better than any of his likely GOP opponents, some of whom are frankly scary, demagogues of the like of Jesse Jackson, just mirror-imaged.

  16. Great job, Elaine, of combining in your article these two important facts of life in the military. One could wonder if the jettisoning of one group was because the other group is being taken on board.

    Certainly there’s no love for gays in the white supremecist cupboard. And they’re joining to get the training they need for their future back in their home bunker.

    Lt. Choi’s letter like Martin Luther’s 95 theses and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham jail is a call for righting the abuses inevitably found in an intractable system.

    MLK Jr.’s letter included: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Truth to Power. It will be interesting to see what Power answers.

  17. Trans and Intersexed people are still discharged whenever detected.

    They don’t get a medical discharge, but an administrative one.

    which gives the details of Army Regulation 40–501, and some of the issues.

    What that article doesn’t mention is that, while they would normally qualify for an Honorable Discharge, they often get a General Discharge (contrary to regulations)

    Trans and Intersexed people have to be very careful they don’t over-achieve. For then they are likely to be given higher security ratings, involving more thorough background checking. An Intersexed person surgically corrected at age 3 months who becomes qualified as a nuclear missile technician or crypto-analyst is discharged immediately, as their medical records are examined.

    Administrative discharges are given to servicemembers who exhibit a behavioral problem or a personality disorders.
    The administrative discharge follows veterans long after military service ends – when they apply for a government job, or attempt to access veteran’s benefits, for example, they must present the discharge papers.
    “It follows you; it follows you like a ghost,” Brown said. “There’s no negative association with a medical discharge, but there is always a stigma associated with an administrative discharge.”

    “You’re lumped in with pedophiles and fetishists – so not only are you perceived to be mentally ill, but you’re also looked at as a pervert.”

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