Psychologists examine impact of Pentagon gay policy on health

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A newly published article in the journal Professional Psychology examines how the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gay recruits impedes access to mental healthcare in the armed services and identifies practical steps providers should take to provide the best possible care for lesbian, gay and bisexual service personnel.

The article, Service Delivery in a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” World, was published as part of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Military Service.

“[The] article provides welcome guidelines for military psychologists and their patients,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).

“No patient should have to risk losing their career because they have sought needed medical attention. Those who sacrifice so much for our country should receive only the best in medical care, and this article goes a long way in outlining what ‘the best’ should be.”

The Urban Institute recently estimated that 65,000 lesbian and gay service members are currently on duty in the U.S. armed forces. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, however, threatens military personnel with discharge if they are openly lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Some psychologists, as a result, have reported that they believe they are required to turn in service members who reveal their sexual orientation even if that information is disclosed during the course of medical treatment. The Professional Psychology article sheds light on why the law may hamper proper medical counsel.

The article notes that lesbian, gay and bisexual service members are “routinely subjected, without recourse, to discrimination in employment, harassment, ostracism and even hate crimes.”

That situation, the authors write, “is often exacerbated in the military, where commanding officers display notable [bias] in the way sexual orientation is addressed.”

Recommended guidelines for mental healthcare providers include taking steps to ensure service members’ confidentiality is respected to the extent allowed by DOD regulation; conducting gay-sensitive clinical assessments; understanding gay identity development; practicing affirmative, rather than merely ‘tolerant’ counselling; and helping gay service members explore the pros and cons of continued military service.

“Military psychologists now have an important set of ‘best practices’ to use when treating lesbian, gay and bisexual service members,” said CAPT Robert Michael Rankin, USNR (Ret.), a former Naval psychiatrist and member of the SLDN Honorary Board of Directors. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ presents unique obstacles for healthcare providers who are entrusted with the treatment of our men and women in uniform. Until the military’s ban is repealed, the guidelines in today’s article will be an invaluable roadmap for everyone interested in providing the best possible medical care to our troops.”

The Professional Psychology article also finds that the rationales for maintaining “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have not “garnered scientific support.” “There is no evidence,” the article says, “that combat performance is diminished or that unit cohesion declines when GLB persons serve openly.” Those arguments, the authors note, “are undermined by research showing that none of the 24 foreign militaries that allow gays and lesbians to serve have reported deterioration in unit cohesion.”

Source: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

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