'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' May Put Soldiers' Health at Risk, Doctor Says 12/02/10
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) - A physician with experience
caring for armed forces personnel says the U.S. military's "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell" policy puts both service members and the general
public at risk by encouraging secrecy about sexual health
"Infections go undiagnosed. Service members and their partners go untreated," Dr. Kenneth Katz, a physician at San Diego State University and the University of California at San Diego, wrote in a commentary published Dec. 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
And civilians "pay a price" because they have sex with service
members who miss out on programs aimed at preventing the spread of
the HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually
transmitted diseases, Katz wrote.
The military is currently pondering the end of the "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" policy, which does not allow gay service members to
serve openly. No one knows how many gays are in the armed forces.
However, one 2002 study found that active-duty Navy sailors made up
9 percent of the patients who visited one gay men's health clinic
in San Diego.
Katz writes that he treated one active-duty gay member of the
military who visited a sexually transmitted disease clinic in San
Diego and was diagnosed with gonorrhea. Even though the military
covered the man's medical expenses, he feared his career would be
jeopardized if he went to a military doctor over issues of sexual
The U.S. military has said it will no longer use confidential
medical information in its efforts to ferret out gay service
members. But Katz writes that service members have told him that
they haven't heard about such a change.
In an interview, a psychologist who studies sexual orientation
issues said that Katz "may be underselling the risks" posed to
service members who must keep their personal lives private in order
to avoid losing their jobs.
Research has shown that the act of inhibiting oneself is
unhealthy, according to David Huebner, an assistant professor of
psychology at the University of Utah.
On the other hand, he said, "if you disclose things that are
personally difficult to you in a constructive way, your physical
health can improve."
Physicians often deal with mental health issues, Heubner added,
and they'll be hobbled if service members aren't open about
To learn more about sexually transmitted diseases, head to the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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