Can Gay Discharged Soldiers Get Back Into the Army Now?


© James Berglie/ZUMA Press/Corbis

"Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" was the official U.S. policy on homosexuals in the military for the last 18 years. It barred open homosexuals from serving, but prohibited the discrimination, harassing or outing of closeted homosexual service members. It was repealed, and officially ended last September. Now that the rules have changed and gays can serve openly, can those who were discharged under the old policy get back into their old combat boots?

They can certainly try, but the estimated 14,000 former service members discharged for being gay aren’t getting special treatment or blanket reinstatement into their old positions. They’ve got to get in line and apply just like every other civilian. They’ll have to pass physical fitness tests just like they did the first time around and will be “evaluated according to the same criteria and requirements applicable to all others seeking entry into the military,” according to the Pentagon.

Making the cut means demonstrating they can meet the needs of the service, and having the skills and qualifications the military wants right now.

On its face, that position may not appear fair. These people were discharged under a discriminatory policy; shouldn’t they be entitled to what they’d already earned before? Their job? Their rank? Considering the mental, physical, and emotional demands placed on service members, though, the blanket reinstatement seems less practical. As Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the country's largest organization of LGBT troops and veterans, told the New York Times, “You have to think long and hard from a policy perspective whether you want to put somebody who’s been out 5 or 10 years back into the same billet just because an injustice was done.”