SAN FRANCISCO — A gay psychiatrist owes the U.S. Air Force more than $71,000 for his top-notch education because he failed to fulfill his active duty obligation, a judge has ruled.
In a decision made public Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said John Hensala, a former U.S. Air Force captain, should be required to pay back the government because he voluntarily came out as gay and should have known the consequences of violating the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
”(Hensala) presumably understood that the Air Force would follow its own rules and what the likely consequences of his acts would be,” Alsup wrote. “It is not unreasonable to infer that one intends the probable and foreseeable consequences of deliberate conduct.”
Hensala, 36, a San Francisco psychiatrist in private practice who sued last May, said he shouldn’t have to repay the money because he wanted to serve, but the Air Force refused to let him because he announced he was gay.
Hensala was honorably discharged after telling his superiors in 1994 that he’s gay. He claimed he wanted to serve honestly and had no reason to believe he would be automatically discharged after his announcement.
The Air Force contended Hensala announced he was gay simply to avoid active duty military service.
“I came out to them for my mental health and well being as a human being, not for any other reason. And I wanted to serve openly,” Hensala said Tuesday afternoon. “As a psychiatrist, I couldn’t in good conscience serve in the closet. My job is to help people live more honestly.”
The government paid for Hensala’s education at Northwestern University’s medical school under a program that required four years of active duty military service after graduation. He put off that service twice — during a three-year residency at Yale, and a two-year fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco.
In December 1994, the Air Force reminded Hensala his military service would begin the following year. Days later, Hensala announced he was gay.
The judge agreed his timing may have been suspect.
Although Alsup acknowledged that Hensala was never directly asked whether he knew discharge was imminent after he came out as gay, “There is still substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that plaintiff made the declarations for the purpose of seeking separation,” the judge said.
Hensala’s lawyer, Clyde Wadsworth, said he planned to appeal Alsup’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We are deeply disappointed with the court’s order,” he said. “We think that it’s simply wrong.”
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said his office had not yet seen the decision and refused to comment.