The U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays helps spread disease and puts service members' health at risk, a commentary by a doctor in the New England Journal of Medicine said Wednesday.
Military personnel afraid of giving frank sexual histories to military physicians can miss treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, including the AIDS virus, and may spread them to others, according to Dr. Kenneth Katz.
"The consequences of 'don't ask, don't tell' are clear. Infections go undiagnosed. Service members and their partners go untreated," wrote Katz, an STD specialist in San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency.
President Barack Obama is pushing to get Congress to repeal it in the coming weeks and the Pentagon released a study on Tuesday that predicted there would be little impact on the military if it did.
At least 13,000 men and women have been expelled from the armed forces under the 1993 policy, which allows gays to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation private.
Katz described the case of one young man he treated who had rectal gonorrhea from having sex with other men and required special treatment and counseling that would not be given to a heterosexual.
"So why had Petty Officer J. come to the municipal clinic? He would not be comfortable, he told me, discussing his sexual practices or his sexual partners with military clinicians. Doing so. he said, would jeopardize his military career under 'don't ask, don't tell'," Katz wrote.
Katz cited statistics from the University of California Los Angeles estimating that 66,000 gays, lesbians and bisexuals serve in the U.S. military, or 2.2 percent of personnel.
"Moreover, the policy leads to wild goose chases that squander public health resources. After being diagnosed with an STD at a military treatment facility, one active-duty gay service member told me he was compelled to provide the names of and contact information for his sex partners," Katz added.
Instead, the young man gave the name of a platonic female friend, who was called in for counseling.
Gay men are at especially high risk and can be counseled about safe-sex practices, but not if doctors do not know they are gay or bisexual.