WASHINGTON -- Under don't ask, don't tell (DADT), not only does an openly gay service member get kicked out of the military, but he or she may have to repay the Defense Department for any unfinished service.
Since coming out in 2009, Lt. Dan Choi has become an outspoken advocate for the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, which passed Congress late last year but remains in effect until a lengthy certification process is completed.
On Dec. 20, 2010, the Defense Department sent Choi a letter -- and a bill -- saying he owed the U.S. government $2,500 for the "unearned portion of your enlistment or reenlistment bonus." According to the letter, if Choi did not pay his debt within 30 days, the Department would possibly refer his account to a private collection agency, follow up with the Justice Department for legal action and report the delinquency to credit bureaus.
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.
The Huffington Post spoke with Eric Durr, spokesman for the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, who explained that even though he was discharged involuntarily, Choi still had to repay the portion of the bonus because DADT was the law of the land when he came out in 2009:
Lt. Choi joined the New York Army National Guard in 2008, and agreed to serve in the New York Army National Guard as an office for three years in exchange for a $10,000 affiliation bonus. So he was given $10,000 extra, on top of his regular Army National Guard Reserve pay, for joining the National Guard, because we need young officers. Under the terms of this, which occurred in March 2008, he agreed to repay the part of the bonus that he had not yet discharged an obligation for, if he failed to satisfactorily complete that assigned term. And among those was involuntary separation for violating regulations. He signed it, like everybody does.
The $2,500 could be deducted from any tax refund Choi may receive. When service members have an outstanding debt to the federal government and they're serving at the time, it's often taken right out of their paychecks.
West Point graduate Anthony Woods faced a similar situation when he decided to come out. The Army agreed to pay half his tuition for the Harvard Kennedy School. But after he was discharged for coming out, the military demanded he repay the $38,000 in tuition money.
An Army spokesman told The Huffington Post that each case is looked at individually -- whether to recoup or forgive debts. In October, the group Servicemembers United sent the White House a memo arguing that those discharged under DADT should not be forced to repay debts.
"Since the law only allows, but does not require, the service secretaries to recoup education and training costs from those discharged early, the President can and should elect to end this practice in gay discharge cases immediately," read the memo. "No refunds on previously completed recoupments would be due if this practice were halted, although it would certainly be a welcome change if that were to be considered. However, the most important thing is placing a moratorium on the ongoing cases immediately so that those currently being hounded and pursued can get on with their lives. "