News (USA)

Pentagon prepares to implement DADT; Appeals court rejects DOJ motion to suspend case

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday said training to prepare for implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could begin as early as next month.

But reaction from LGBT groups was mixed, and a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel has also rejected a motion from the U. S. Department of Justice to halt proceedings on a legal challenge to the ban that’s pending in that court.

It has been just over a month since President Obama signed the bill to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay service members. And Pentagon officials said Friday they think they may be ready to begin implementation of the new law within the year.

But General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there is no hard and fast date by which the Pentagon believes it will be able to implement repeal.

The law Obama signed in December requires that the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certify in writing” that implementation of repeal can begin without compromising military readiness.

Cartwright said that the individual service chiefs would be able to put a “pause” on the process if they run up against any unforeseen obstacles, but that certification could happen before all troops receive direct training.

Aubrey Sarvis, head of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he thinks the Pentagon is taking “thoughtful steps to move toward certification and implementation of open service.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese was guarded.

“While this implementation plan is a step in the right direction,” said Solmonese, in a statement released Friday, “it is critical that the Department address benefits issues and non-discrimination protections so that all service members are treated equally.”

The Pentagon, said the HRC statement, “does not go far enough in calling for parity in benefits that could be accomplished through revised regulations that add same-sex committed partners to the definitions of ‘dependent,’ ’family member,’ or other similar terms. Such a step would be consistent with President Obama’s June 2009 memorandum that all federal agencies take steps to extend benefits equally to lesbian and gay employees, where permitted by law.”

Meanwhile, the ACLU said it is “disappointed” with a Department of Defense memo that stipulates the Department will not provide any compensation for service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The organization noted that service members discharged under DADT have been “entitled to half of the sum paid to other honorably discharged service members to ease their transition into civilian life.”

“The least that the government can do is make the victims of this discriminatory policy whole,” said Joshua Block, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project.

The ACLU filed suit in a federal court in New Mexico last November seeking full compensation for those discharged under the policy over the past six years.

“Service members who have been unconstitutionally discharged because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Block, “should receive the separation pay to which they are entitled.”

The Defense Department is also demanding that discharged gay soldiers repay the “unearned portions” of their contracts.

Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran discharged last year under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” received a bill for $2,500., which the federal government claims is the “unearned portion” of his re-enlistment bonus.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit pending in the 9th Circuit, filed and won by Log Cabin Republicans at the U.S. district court level, will proceed. The Justice Department is due to file its brief on the appeal Feb. 25.

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