SAN DIEGO – Former Air Force officer Michael Almy’s five-year battle to get back into the military after being discharged for being gay is still far from over despite the end of the policy that halted the decorated war veteran’s 13-year career.

The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” coincides with the most competitive time in recent history to get into the military because of the sluggish economy, and the Defense Department says it won’t give priority to those discharged for being gay.

Almy, 41, a former Air Force major, and two other discharged officers — another one from the Air Force and one from the Navy — are suing the Justice Department to demand they be reinstated. They hope a federal appeals court will help their efforts by upholding a lower court ruling last year that declared the law unconstitutional.

Nearly 14,000 service members have been discharged under the policy that prohibited the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but required discharge of those who acknowledged being gay or were discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

Almy said he never admitted to the military he was gay, but was discharged in 2006 after a service member snooped through his emails on a government-issued computer in Iraq when Almy’s deployment there ended.