ACLU Settles “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Case, Law Disproportionately Impacted African Americans, Women

January 17, 2013  |  

A settlement was reached this week that will compensate service members that participated in a class-action lawsuit for the pay they didn’t receive after they were discharged from the armed services under the now-overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon has agreed to pay service members discharged after November 10, 2004 who were only given half pay when they were honorably discharged.

“According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the action against the Defense Department, the half pay was the result of an internal policy adopted in 1991,” writes the Times. “Troops are entitled to separation pay if they are involuntarily and honorably discharged after completing at least six years of service. Separation pay is calculated based on years of active service and the service member’s monthly basic pay when at the time he or she was discharged.” In total, the story says the Pentagon failed to pay out $2.4 million to about 180 former service people.

Adding insult to injury, Colorlines writes that those discharged were disproportionately African American, female, or both. Quoting a 2010 Service Women’s Action Network report, the site says: “Even though black women comprise less than one percent of servicemembers, they represented 3.3 percent of all don’t ask, don’t tell discharges… According to a 2010 Service Women’s Action Network report, women were 15 percent of the armed forces in 2008, but comprised 34 percent of the don’t ask, don’t tell discharges.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed about two years ago. The law became an issue again recently when Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s Defense Secretary nominee, was asked to respond to questions about his support of LGBT rights in the military. He said he supports the repeal, though he made comments in 1998 about a candidate for ambassador that would indicate he has issues with the LGBT community.

In that recent letter, Think Progress quotes Hagel saying, “I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.” (The quote includes the bold statement.)

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