05/09/2008 11:11 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rx for a Stronger, Healthier Military

Yesterday morning's USA Today features an article on the toll American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken on our men and women in uniform.

The cover story investigates the fact that 43,000 U.S. troops listed as medically unfit for combat deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan anyway. This report mirrors a similar investigation conducted by Erin Emery back in January for the Denver Post.

At a time when the military is fighting two wars simultaneously, when recruiting is difficult, when standards are being lowered and injured soldiers are being sent off to war, why is Congress still not allowing gay military personnel to serve openly? Why is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" still the law?

This past weekend, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., "You are joining a military that is more diverse, more representative of our country than any military we've ever had. There is great strength in that, great benefits. And we are a military that must represent our country." Mullen went on to say, "[Don't Ask, Don't Tell] is a law, and we follow it," and that should the law change, the military will carry that out too.

While the Chairman's remarks are somewhat encouraging and hopeful, the real test will come when Admiral Mullen and the Joint Chiefs are asked by the next Congress and the new Administration for their recommendations on the future of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The question on the table will be -- should Congress keep the ban on openly gay service members in the federal statute or repeal it. What the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense recommend will be paramount in the decision making process on Capitol Hill.

Historically Congress gives great weight to the recommendations of the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs. We already know that the Secretary of Defense, along with the Joint Chiefs, will implement congressional law. The big question on the table is -- will they lead? Will they recommend what is best for the armed forces and the country or will they resist, as some of their predecessors did in the face of President Truman's proposed executive order ending segregation in the ranks?

I am hopeful they will finally recommend repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I believe today's senior military leadership understands the manpower challenges they face and that sexual orientation is no longer relevant. I also believe they will not want to dwell in the past and instead will agree with fully opening the military to all who are qualified.

Like Admiral Mullen, I believe America's armed forces should truly reflect our country - all of us.