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Background Media Roundtable on Don't Ask, Don't Tell Records Review Resources Update


I'm here to talk about the two separate lines of effort that the department is pursuing on the 12th anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Some of those lines of effort are directed toward the general population of veterans who may believe that their records need to be corrected as result of an error or injustice, and then one specific one is directed to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell population.

So, the first one is an outreach and communication effort.  If you've had a chance to look at the webpage yet, you may have seen that there's a spotlight page that is highlighting the Don't Ask, Don't Tell resources that has some links to the Secretary of Defense remarks and [Deputy Secretary]’s remarks, and also has some data on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and how the individuals who have applied to the boards for correction of military records, how they fared when they've applied, which has been fairly successful.

Additionally, DOD will be producing some podcasts that will speak to the processes involved in the military department review board and how they can help correct military records, as well as developing a series of online webinars and learning modules on various review board topics, including how to complete and submit a DD Form 149, which is the application to the BCMRs and NRs, and a DD 293, which is applications to the discharge review boards.

Secondly, the department is announcing a proactive review initiative.  The review will begin by identifying veterans discharged during the operative period of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is 1994 to 2011, whose certificate of release or discharge from active duty, the DD 214, indicates the basis for their separation was their sexual orientation and who received a characterization of discharge that was less than honorable.  Once those members are identified, DOD will take steps to retrieve the relevant military records.  Because of the age of the records, some of that will be going to the National Archives and may be taking a little bit longer.

And then DOD's going to conduct a preliminary review using existing personnel and current policy specific to veterans' discharge because of their sexual orientation referred to frequently as the Stanley Memorandum to assess whether an upgrade in discharge is warranted.  For those cases where this panel believes that a discharge upgrade is warranted, they — that board will be transmitting the names to the service secretaries for consideration and potential correction through the military department boards for correction of military records.  And depending on the situation, the Department may extend that par- — proactive review.

STAFF:  All right, thank you. And with that, I'm going to open it now to questions.  Oren from CNN?

Q:  Hey, thank you for doing this.  I just wonder, is there a sense or an estimate on how many veterans might come forward under these — under these lines of effort and reapply to have their reason for discharge looked at.  Is there any estimate on that?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't know that we can estimate how many veterans will come forward, but I can tell you that with the proactive review, especially if you look at the online page that's on right now, you'll see that's about 2,000 individuals who are discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell for their sexual orientation, but received a less-than-honorable-conditions discharge.

So, I'd say that's — you know, in the widest-possible margin, that's who we're going to be proactively looking at.  Obviously, there may be, and we're hopeful that there will be additional people who see this information and come forward and apply to the discharge review boards.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Oren, do you have a follow-up?

Q:  I do not.

STAFF:  Okay, thank you. Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  So, I just wanted to clarify one thing.  If I heard you right, DOD estimates that roughly 2,000 service members were discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and given a — an "other than honorable" discharge.  How long will it take to review each of these discharges and then come up to a recommendation to the service secretaries about possibly upgrading their discharge?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thanks for the question.  Again, it's a little bit hard to predict because we're first having to get the records and then moving those over to the panels.  I think that, with the 2000 records — again, I hate to even guesstimate, really, how long that's going to take.  I can just tell you that they're going to thoroughly review the records, and that they'll take the time that's needed in order to assess whether an upgrade is warranted.

Q:  And can I ask, why review the records?  If they were discharged solely because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, why not issue a blanket upgrade to everyone who was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and given a dishonorable — "other than honorable" discharge?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So, and I apologize if this is old news for you, but there's two parts to being separated.  There is the basis for separation and then there's the characterization for separation.  So, if someone was discharged for sexual orientation, they may have received a "less than honorable conditions" discharge because of additional misconduct in their records.

So, it would be premature to create some sort of systematic or programmatic or policy that would provide these automatic upgrades, because we really need to look at the records individually to assess whether an upgrade is warranted.  That's why we're doing this proactive review, to make that actual assessment.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF: Ellee from CBS?

Q:  Thank you.  Just wanted to know if that proactive review has begun already.

And then the other part is, is there any additional staffing for this, or taking current positions to do this work?

Thank you.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hi.  We're still working out the details right now.  We're working very hard with our military department colleagues to make this happen.  I think all the specifics are a little bit TBD, but my understanding is that we're going to utilize existing personnel and policies to do this proactive review.

STAFF: Ellee, do you have a follow-up?

Q:  Yes — so it hasn't started, the proactive review?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Correct.  Sorry.

Q:  Do you know when it will start?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  As soon as we can get everything ready and we're assured that everybody has the proper training and that we're doing this in the right way.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF: Quil, I know that you'd said you wanted to e-mail, but did you —

Q:  Yeah, maybe I can sneak a question in here.

STAFF:  Yeah.

Q:  Can you tell me, first of all, if you — are you going to be reaching out to people on — what protocol are you going to use to avoid possibly outing people?

You know, if you call their house after all this time and someone else answered the phone, are you going to be, sort of, disclosing their sexual orientation and that sort of thing?  Do you have a protocol for that?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thank you for that question.  We're cognizant of the privacy issues inherent in this, and that's why we're going to proceed cautiously and, again, after we've had an opportunity to work through those things.

There is a potential reach out, but again, this is all something that, as senior leadership, we'll be looking at and researching before they make that — that determination.

STAFF:  And Quil, do you have a follow-up?

Q:  (Inaudible) is there —


Q:  — organizations there estimate —

STAFF:  Quill, you're breaking up —

Q:  Okay, I'll submit it in writing if you can't hear me.  I was looking — Okay.  Sorry.

STAFF:  No, now we can hear you.  Can you just try again one more time?

Q:  Advocates use a number of well over 100,000 for the number who were discharged for sexual orientation before Don't Ask, Don't Tell inclusive.  Do you have a number like that?  And — and is that relevant to this effort?  Do you have an estimate of your own?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I don't have any viewpoint on that number.  I think I could ask my colleagues if they could maybe walk through how we have the numbers that are currently represented on the online resource page.

STAFF: [Defense Official], are you there?

Q:  Yes, thanks very much.

STAFF:  Can you tell us quickly how we've come to our numbers?

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So, unfortunately, we are somewhat limited in the data that we can pull because of — before we digitized records, you know, pre-2002, much of those records were, you know, scanned as provided.

So, we have a good number for those that were discharged 1980 to 1993, which is pre-Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and that number is 19,365 total.  Anybody that was discharged for sexual orientation prior to 1980, we will, you know, do what we can for the proactive review but we're also, you know, after this announcement, hoping that anybody who feels like they were unjustly characterized for their service and discharged for their sexual orientation will come forward.

STAFF:  All right, thank you.  Okay, those are all of the folks that we had who had asked to have a question.  Again, this transcript will be up after the fact, and I know that the Deputy Secretary is set to —

Q:  Could I ask a quick follow-up?  I'm sorry.

STAFF:  Yes, one quick follow-up, Jeff.

Q:  Thank you. You had mentioned 19,365 discharged between 1980 and 1993.  Why aren't they part of this review?

STAFF:  Hey, Jeff, that's a question for (inaudible), so just hold on one second.

Q:  Sure, for Defense Official 1, got it.

STAFF:  Thank you.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hi, Jeff.  That has not been assessed yet.  I mean, I think that's something that the leadership is considering, but right now, we're definitively confining to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell population.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Great.  Thank you, Jeff.  All right, again, thank you so much for —

Q:  This is Ellen Milhiser with Synopsis.  Can I ask —

STAFF:  Hey, Ellen, we're going to cut it off.  If you could just email me that question after the fact.  Again, thank you all for coming today and for all the folks who had pre-asked for questions.  For anyone else who didn't pre-ask for a question, just send me a note after the fact and I'll make sure you get an answer.

All right, thank you.