Military Gay Ban Expensive

Enforcing the Congressional ban on gays in the military cost $364 million from 1994 to 2003, substantially more than originally calculated.

The financial costs to the U.S. military for discharging and replacing gay service members under the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are nearly twice what the government estimated last year, with taxpayers covering at least $364 million in associated funds over the policy’s first decade, according to a University of California report scheduled for release today.

Members of a UC-Santa Barbara group examining the cost of the policy found that a Government Accountability Office study last year underestimated the costs of firing approximately 9,500 service members between 1994 and 2003 for homosexuality. The GAO, which acknowledged difficulties in coming up with its number, estimated a cost of at least $190.5 million for the same time period. The new estimate is 91 percent higher.

Presuming that this study is more accurate than the GAO report, it still does not amount to much money in the context of a defense budget that will be $426 Billion in the current fiscal year–excluding additional costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, it’s paltry even in context of less controversial policies. As noted several paragraphs into the WaPo story:

According to Pentagon figures provided to the GAO last year, there were 9,501 people separated from the military for homosexuality from 1994 to 2003, compared with 26,446 separated for pregnancy, and 36,513 separated for failing to meet weight standards.

So, we separate more than 2-1/2 times more soldiers for pregnancy and nearly 4 times more for failing to meet arbitrary weight standards as for homosexuality. And most of those soldiers are in non-combat jobs where being pregnant or overweight is a non-issue. (Females are excluded from virtually all combat arms positions and the administrative “tail” of the military is roughly nine times size of the combat “tooth.”)

Furthermore, one can not consider cost in isolation:

Charles Moskos, a sociology professor at Northwestern University and an architect of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said in an interview yesterday that he believes allowing openly gay people into the military — especially combat arms positions — could cause the services to lose many more recruits who would be uncomfortable living in close quarters with them. He said the loss in financial costs does not outweigh the costs of forcing people to live in intimate circumstances with openly gay people. He also said he believes many of the discharges are the result of people claiming to be gay to get an honorable discharge from service early.

Moskos is the preeminent military sociologist of his generation and hardly a right winger. He’s likely quite right in his assessment here. Like it or not, a substantial number of the type of men who sign up for infantry duty would not want to serve with homosexuals.

None of this is to say that the ban on gays is the right public policy. It may well be that, as with black soldiers half a century ago, the military should absorb a short-term blow to its readiness in order to get a long term increase in the qualified pool of applicants. And that’s aside from the fact that removing the ban may simply be the right thing to do.

But let’s not pretend that $34 million a year is a lot of money in the scheme of a half trillion dollar budget and that there is nothing gained from that expenditure.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jonk says:

    A couple of things on this one. Pregnant soldiers *may* separate if they wish, it is not compulsatory.

    As for weight standards, every soldier is first a rifleman i.e. infantry. That is the whole point of basic training…everyone has the same base skill set. Part of that basic skill set is the proper physical fitness and with that, a proper healthy weight. Now, that is not to say that the *way* the weight standard in the Army works or is enforced makes a lot of sense sometimes. But, overall, the soldier in question is given all sorts of opportunity to fix the problem…and if it is medically based, they can receive a waiver.

    Both of these conditions are medically based…separation for homosexual activity is behavioral. Therefore, IMO, a more proper set of statistics would compare the numbers of other behavioral separations to those of homosexual separations.

  2. DC Loser says:

    I don’t think a grunt in the middle of a firefight will care a damn whether the guy next to him is gay, only that he’s covering for him keeping him alive.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jonk: While it’s true in theory that mechanics and cooks are “infantrymen first,” it’s simply not the case in reality. And there’s still the P.T. test.

    DCL: That may well be true. But soldiers spend a tiny fraction of their time in firefights. Esprit is built during training and everyday living, not in foxholes.

  4. LJD says:

    A good comparison could be made with soldiers discharged for drug or alcohol abuse. i.e. voluntary behavior that doesn’t fit with the military culture.

    I don’t put much stock into the cost of replacing troops and lost training investment. Troops are ‘lost’ all the time for various reasons. Keep in mind it is the ‘liberal think tank’ that’s making the connection here.

    If we’re so overly concerned about equity in the military, why not look at discriminatory physical fitness standards for women, and why women who are obese by civilian standards are allowed to remain and progress in the military.

    JJ- you made my point before I could. The unit’s cohesiveness needs to be developed long before the firefight. Such simplistic thinking, and applying civilian valuesto military life, are typical of the deep misunderstanding of this issue on the left.

  5. Anderson says:

    So, we separate more than 2-1/2 times more soldiers for pregnancy and nearly 4 times more for failing to meet arbitrary weight standards as for homosexuality.

    Evidently we need a “don’t weigh, don’t tell” policy.

  6. Jonk says:

    I was always annoyed by the various double standards in the military regarding female soldiers…and frankly, I do not want to go down that path here…

    Case in point of infantryman first: 507th Maintenance Company. Another one of my major beefs from my days in service, allowing our troops to slide on combat training…bullets don’t care what your MOS is…so all our troops should be combat ready. Allowing the military to compartmentalize so much has hurt readiness and resulted in the use of contractors. Seeing that there are actual plans to phase in *more* contractors as combat troops makes my skin crawl.

  7. DC Loser says:

    LJD – I’m always a little amazed how you always chalk discussions in here to the left-right debate. I try to leave politics out of it. I’m talking about this from my perspective as a former active duty officer and current DoD employee. I had airmen working under my command that were later “outed” as gay. This was before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” One case involved a popular NCO that was a good performer. It was my understanding later that his colleagues in my shop all knew about his secret but didn’t say anything because nobody thought it was a big deal. The esprit de corps in my shop was fine, we all did our job and that was that. Switch to today’s DoD. Contractors, civil servants work alongside active duty military. Openly gay people work alongside military and there’s never a problem. Even our agency’s commander had to issue an EEO policy about non-discrimination for “sexual orientation.” This in a combat support agency of the DoD. Ironic, isn’t it?

  8. LJD says:

    The real issue here is that you have a policy that is costing us money, hurting readiness and is really not fulfilling any national security objective,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a member of the commission.

    That’s his opinion, and his affilitation is clear. How is it that I am ‘chalking’ this into anything? Looks to me like liberals looking to make an issue…

    For the record, I am a stout independent. I just can’t stand the amount of time Democrats spend bashing ‘the administration’ at great cost to this country, for their own gain. Especially when they HAVE NO IDEAS of their own.

    I also suppose your situation is different than mine. While you’re sitting in offices with contractors and drinking coffee, a lot of guys are in the field, washing their ass with a handi wipe (aka whorebath), months on end, that is whenver they get a chance to. Know what it’s like to sleep five guys inside a Bradley, fully loaded?

  9. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Again I must ask, whatever happened to JUST SAY NO!? Its free. how about if you don’t tell I won’t tell? how about if we just make an all gay company, I sure hate to get captured by them, and then again maybe not, they would probably buy me drinks all night. All Stupidity aside, I have a lot of gay friends that would I trust my life, and even though I believe gayness is a sin of pleasure it is between said person and God. If they want to serve, let them, right now I think we can use just about everybody we can get.

  10. DC Loser says:

    LJD – Larry Korb was Asst SECDEF for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics under Reagan from 81-85. I think I have his signature on my commissioning certificate. He’s hardly a lefty lib. His credentials on this matter is solid. I think he’s just a realist.

  11. LJD says:

    Considering the crap spewing out of Dean and Co. these days, most on the left wouldn’t know a ‘lefty lib’ if one came up and bit them in the ass…

    I fail to see how an individual’s public service in any way detracts from their voluntary association with a ‘liberal think tank’.

  12. DC Loser says:

    LJD – I guess that says a lot more about you than anything else. You seem to attach more importance to labels than substance. I don’t believe your self professed independence anymore than Hillary saying she’s not a liberal.

  13. jimbo says:

    DC Loser, the USAF hardly qualifies as a military service. Anyway, this is a tough call. I was in the infantry in the 1960s and there were homosexual (in the 1960s “gay” meant “happy” and the vulgar word for homosexuals was “queer” and “homo” was slightly more acceptable) troops then as open as the culture of the times would allow. No, no one liked gays very much back then, but their effect on unit cohesion was negligible. On the other hand, race relations back then were abysmal. For the good of the country, and so that ALL of the troops could be used for maximum effectiveness, the Army stood its ground on racial matters, and most of us got over our racial hangups. Those were the days when Colin Powell was a young officer. Thank goodness his career was not limited by the racism endemic amongst the predominately Southern lifers who were in charge in those days.

  14. DC Loser says:

    Jimbo, call the USAF whatever you like, but I got the same pay and benefits as everybody else. You make your own choice. I don’t have to ever apologize for the things I did. Going out every day in -30 degree weather all winter fixing and making sure ICBMs stayed on alert hardly qualified as cushy. I bet you weren’t PRP certified for nuclear weapons duty.

  15. djneylon says:

    The point many miss is that, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), gay sex is illegal. Recruits are asked if they are homosexual, dopers, on probation, etc. If they say no and they are, this is called false enlistment and fraud — good for a bad conduct discharge. Thus, most military gays either (a) enlisted fraudulently, or (b) are in violation of the UCMJ. So, in polite language they’re law breakers. So spare me the bologna that gays are oppressed like blacks, and acknowledge facts — homosexuals want special treatment (oh, you can break the rules, you’re gay).

  16. floyd says:

    …”and the gods of the copybook headings ,i notice, outlast them all” [rudyard kipling]

  17. LJD says:

    DC, this is a simple problem with a simple solution. It has become a polarized issue, because liberals (e.g. ACLU) want to impose their values on the U.S. military, so that it fits with their philosophy of how things ‘should be’. Reference girls in the boy scouts.

    Now, the fact of the matter is that this is NOT a gay ban. This is: don’t ask don’t tell. A gay person can have a very lucrative military career, they just have to follow the rules like every one else. Heterosexuals make such choices all the time. A military career, especially nowadays, often dictates that soldiers forgo meaningful relationships and starting a family. Some find out the hard way and end up in divorce.

    So the cost to the military here, is not due to a gay ban, as the ‘liberal think tank’ would have you believe. It is due to soldiers not being able to keep their oath to follow the rules and keep their mouth shut. They were either caught in a homosexual act, or came out of the closet because they didn’t want to go to war, or didn’t think they had to folow the rules anymore.

    If anything, it might serve as evidence of the caliber of soldier that aa homosexual makes. They’ll follow the rules to get int he door, then do whatever the hell they want when it suits them. This is not the ‘military culture’.