View Full Version : Veterans groups mum on Don't Ask

07-26-2010, 09:14 PM
Veterans groups mum on Don't Ask
If any group could stop the tide in favor of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, it would be military veterans.
Lawmakers respect veterans groups and often consult them on military policies, especially when current enlistees are unable to comment.
But as the Senate prepares to take a vote on the issue, national veterans groups have done little more than publicly declare their support for the military ban on openly gay Americans.
Their muted activism has helped gay-rights activists argue that the armed services are ready for change.
"You have younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and for the most part they tend to be very pro-repeal," Jarrod Chlapowski of Servicemembers United , a veterans group for gays and lesbians, said.
At the beginning of the debate, gay-rights groups prepared themselves for stiff opposition from groups like American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars .
Servicemembers and Human Rights Campaign began collecting names and stories from young veterans who back repeal. They brought veterans – straight and gay – to Capitol Hill and planned to counter any veteran opposition by showing that they too had vets who supported them.
But they may have been overestimated the competition.
The Legion, which assigns one of its members to meet regularly with every lawmaker, has made its position against repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell in the midst of two wars known around Congress.
But the group doesn't typically organize public rallies and protests like the other side does.
"I don't think any member of the American Legion that I know of is actively lobbying at this point on Don't Ask Don't Tell," Dan Dellinger, chair of the national security panel of the Legion, said. "We're more concerned with veterans benefits and things of that nature."
Dellinger leads the panel responsible for researching and proposing resolutions on the policy. He said most members favor the ban.
The group typically puts their policy opinions up for a full membership vote.
Andrew Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran and retired Army reserve officer, was one of the Legion members to vote in favor of keeping Don't Ask Don't Tell.
"Like all minorities, they will seek to attract others with their point of view to their circle," Johnson said. "You will discover that people … are given special treatment should they be of a particular persuasion."
But other Legion members, especially younger ones, don't agree with Johnson. That may be one reason the Legion has focused its grassroots lobbying on less contentious issues like veteran benefits.
Another is that the repeal is expected to pass, and the veteran groups may not see this as a viable fight.
"The VFW is fully aware that social norms regarding homosexuality have changed," Joe Davis of Veterans for Foreign Wars said before warning that the military shouldn't be used for social experiments.
He described his group's approach as wait and see.
The Legion, too, wants Congress to wait until the Pentagon completes its review of the policy before making changes.
"It would be premature to act before the commission conducting the study releases its findings," the group's national commander wrote in his letter to lawmakers.
In the absence of veterans groups, activism for the law has come mostly from conservative groups concerned about the morality of homosexuality.
The Family Research Council , which also works on other gay issues like marriage, has planned a webcast to educate its members on the issue Tuesday night.
"President Obama and the Senate Democratic Leadership are using this legislation as a vehicle to force open homosexuality in the military," the group wrote in an e-mail about the event.
The webcast includes speakers like Elaine Donnelly, head of the Center for Military Readiness , who has helped fund studies showing that military families don't want to repeal the law.
"The actual 1993 law states the homosexuals are not eligible to be in the armed services, and there is widespread support for that in the military," she said.
Groups like Donnelly's and Family Research Council have military veterans in their ranks. But they have much less influence on Capitol Hill than the veterans groups, especially among the Democratic majority.
"Veterans' voices are very powerful in this debate," Michael Cole of Human Rights Campaign said.
Ambreen Ali writes for Congress.org.

This story was updated to include further detail about the American Legion’s policies and procedures and to correct Dellinger’s name.