Conscientious Objectors:

Number of Applications Remained Small During the Persian Gulf War

NSIAD-94-35: Published: Nov 9, 1993. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) handling of conscientious objector applications from armed forces members, focusing on the: (1) number of applications and approval rates for fiscal year (FY) 1988 through FY 1991, particularly during the time of the Persian Gulf War; (2) impact of the number of applications on readiness; (3) applicants' characteristics; and (4) military services' procedures for processing conscientious objectors' applications.

GAO found that: (1) DOD processed about 200 conscientious objector applications annually and approved 80 to 85 percent of them from FY 1988 through 1990; (2) DOD processed 447 applications and approved 61 percent of them during the Persian Gulf War; (3) in FY 1992, the number of applications and approval rate returned to near prewar levels; (4) most of the applications in FY 1991 came from Army and Marine Corps members; (5) the number of conscientious objector applications had no impact on combat readiness and was insignificant compared to the number of members in uniform and deployed during the Persian Gulf War; (6) DOD deployed 110 applicants to the Persian Gulf pending resolution of their applications; (7) most applicants were white male enlisted personnel under the age of 30 in combat or support occupational specialties; (8) the basic steps for processing conscientious objector applications include the appointment of an investigating officer, interviews with a chaplain and a psychiatrist, a hearing, preparation of a report by the investigating officer, and the submission of the report through the chain of command; (9) the military services' approval processes and discharge options vary due to their implementing regulations; and (10) application processing times range from 1 month to 4 years and average about 6 months.

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