Tag Archives: Defense Department

Thank You For Your Service, Maybe?

PTSD There’s a difference between Militarism and Supporting Our Military.  There is also a difference between being militaristic and being supportive of our nation’s service members and veterans.  A militarist tends to regard military efficiency as the best ideal of the state, and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military services. [DictRef]  Now that the terms are defined, why do conservatives have such a difficult time comprehending the problems created when they call for a “strong” Department of Defense, and a “strong” nation, or a “strong” foreign policy, and almost simultaneously disparage the members of the military and veterans when those people express their needs?

The latest manifestation of this issue comes from radio talker Michael Savage, who offered his opinion on Armed Forces members and veterans who are suffering with PTSD:

“If the whole nation is told, ‘boo-hoo-hoo, come and get a medication, come and get treatment, talk about mental illness,’ you know what you wind up with? You wind up with Obama in the White House and lawyers in every phase of the government, that’s what you wind up with. It’s a weak, sick nation. A weak, sick, broken nation.” […] “You need men like me to save the country,” he said. “You need men to stand up and say stop crying like a baby over everything.” He continued that “men are so weak and so narcissistic” that it is “no wonder ISIS can defeat our military.” [Savage/RRW]

It Helps To Know What You’re Talking About

Mr. Savage must know what he’s doing; he must know that there’s an audience for this kind of nonsense.   First, it is obvious Mr. Savage has absolutely no personal military experience.  Had he any experience he’d know the truth of the old adage: A war leaves no one unwounded.  He was about 26 at the height of the war in Vietnam, but didn’t serve.  Nonetheless, he’s certain the nation needs “men like me to save the country.”

Shut Up and Shoot Yourself?

Secondly, the fossilized notions about mental illness embedded in Savage’s rant are appalling.  If a person seeks treatment for mental health issues, then he is “weak, sick, and broken?”  Savage/Weiner couldn’t have crafted a more blatant recipe for further weakening injured individuals.  Again, even a cursory familiarity with the U.S. military would demonstrate the Department of Defense takes PTSD very seriously, in fact there’s been the establishment of the Defense Centers of Excellence – for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.  

In August 2013, the DoD, the Veterans Administration, and other agencies created a joint research program to study PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries. [Defense.Gov]  One element of the study will be a collaboration to study the factors influencing the chronic effects of mild TBI in order to improve diagnostic and treatment options, keying on a better understanding of the relationship between TBI and neurodegenerative disease.   No “boo hoo hoo” here, simply a directive from the Department of Defense and the White House that we take a serious scientific look at nature and treatment which ought to be available to any of the 2.5 million U.S. service members who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001 and need mental health treatment.

The conception that “real men (and women) don’t cry” or that “real men (and women) don’t want to be stigmatized as having a mental health issue is dangerous in and of itself.  During a presentation for the American Psychiatric Association in 2012 it was noted that fewer than half the soldiers who reported combat related PTSD received the necessary care, and of those who participate in a treatment program between 20% and 50% will stop before the treatment is complete.  When 93% of Army infantrymen have come under fire from rockets, artillery, or mortars, and when 91% report having been ambushed or attacked, and 87% report they know someone who has been seriously injured or killed, then it’s obvious some form of scientifically based treatment programs will need to be in place to assist those who develop PTSD. [Stripes]

There’s no “boo-hoo-hoo” factor when a mental health issue, such as PTSD,  produces intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance symptoms, negative feelings about self and others, inability to experience positive emotions, feeling of emotional numbness, feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, difficulty in maintaining close relationships, anger and irritability, overwhelming guilt or shame, self destructive behaviors, problems with concentration, problems with insomnia, difficulties created by being easily startled or frightened.  [MayoClinic]

This is serious stuff.  While the rates for civilian suicides remained steady at 19:100,ooo over the period of a recent study for the National Institute of Mental Health, the Army suicide rate – historically lower than the civilian rate – surpassed it in 2008 and kept climbing, until it finally dropped a bit in 2012-13.  [USAT]  What is Savage/Weiner advocating? Is his message so divorced from reality that it’s little more than “Just Shut Up and Shoot Yourself?”

An Alternative Universe of Memory

Mr. Savage/Weiner evidently defines ‘manhood’ in antediluvian terms.  Men back in the good old days were Real Men, and women knew how to act like ladies?  This TV scripted perspective never existed in any real form. Mr. Savage/Weiner seems stuck in a wonderland of Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet.  His definition of masculinity sounds more like an interpretation of a John Wayne movie script.  It certainly isn’t Bogart sending Bergman off in Casablanca, or Sidney Poitier in Raisin in the Sun. It most certainly isn’t ultimate slacker Hoffman in The Graduate. [NPR]  Nor is it to be found in Gregory Peck’s performance in To Kill a Mockingbird.  And, merciful heavens, it must not be anywhere near the comedic rendition from Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.  The hard sad truth is that Mr. Savage/Weiner’s interpretation never even existed in Hollywood outside the genre of stock war movies and derivative westerns.

If Mr. Savage/Weiner is reaching about 3 million Americans with his entertainments,  about 1% of the population, then why waste pixels and print?  Because, his views energize some of the least attractive and least socially useful elements in our national repertoire of ideas.  Surely, nothing is less useful than militaristically bantering about the glories and barbarities of war, while disparaging those who come home from it  to the nightmare of PTSD.

Talk Without Money

Perhaps this isn’t such a far fetched perspective when placed in proximity to the Republican budget proposals of the recent past.  Flags, color guards, pomp and circumstance are all part of the 4th of July atmosphere attached to political performances.  However, when it comes down to the money, the appropriations for Veterans’ services life gets stickier. 

The lack of specificity in budgets crafted by Representative Paul Ryan make it very difficult to predict what the impact of his budget slashing might be, especially in the short term.  Rep. Ryan once referred to budget cuts in cost of living formulas for retired service-members as a “modest adjustment to a particularly generous program.” [WaPo]  Other modest adjustments were considered:

“The House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has told a veterans’ group it is studying a plan to save $6 billion annually in VA health care costs by cancelling enrollment of any veteran who doesn’t have a service-related medical condition and is not poor.

Committee Republicans, searching for ways to curb federal deficits and rein in galloping VA costs, are targeting 1.3 million veterans who claim priority group 7 or 8 status and have access to VA care.” [vmusa]

In other words, “No matter what we told you about taking care of you if you volunteered to take care of our country, if we can cut back on government spending at your expense we’ll do it.”  A veteran with a priority group 7 or 8 status is on his or her own – no matter how many paeans were offered and “thank you’s for your service” rendered.

Since when did we decide, as a nation, that a veteran is not really a veteran if he or she is in the “wrong category” and is thereby less worthy of a nation’s gratitude?

How much difference is there between the hate-radio talker who disparages the mental illnesses exacerbated or triggered by combat experience and the impact of that experience on a returning veteran, and the casual elimination of veterans’ benefits from selected categories merely to satisfy the “drown the government in a bathtub” crowd?

There is a point at which it must be acknowledged that militarism creates veterans, and promises to those veterans should be kept.

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Filed under Afghanistan, conservatism, Defense Department, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Iraq

Amodei and Heck Go Nuke

Nuclear missileHere’s what we get when things are reduced to “either/or” status in the deliberations of  the House of Representatives: Do we fund cleaning up toxic sites formerly used by the Department of Defense, or do we put the $3.4 million in Air Force research and development? There was a vote on an amendment to H.R. 4870:

“An amendment numbered 4 printed in the Congressional Record to increase funding for Environmental Restoration, Formerly Used Defense Sites, by $3,400,000 and reduce funds for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Air Force, by the same amount.”

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and it was defeated 179 to 24 [roll call 319] Nevada Representatives Titus (D-NV1) and Horsford (D-NV4) voted in favor of the amendment, Representatives Amodei (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) voted against it.

In the grand scheme of federal budgeting a $3.4 million allocation isn’t all that much, but this issue does illustrate a problem for the Department of Defense, as specified in GAO reporting.

 “DOD is obligated to ensure that former defense sites are cleaned up to a level that is protective of human health and the environment. DOD has identified over 4,000 formerly used defense sites, which were closed before October 2006, and over 5,000 sites identified by several Base Realignment and Closure commissions that require cleanup.”

The Department implemented the GAO recommendations, and provides an annual report on its environmental clean up and restoration programs.  As with all things military there is an acronym for former sites, FUDS (formerly used Defense sites), and IRP (installation restoration program) and these are useful terms when reviewing the funding for these operations.

Funding for FUDS was $277.2 million in FY 2013, $287.4 million in FY 2014, and is projected to drop to $208.4 in FY 2014.  These funds would be allocated toward the restoration of 3.022 FUDS properties, and 8331 BRAC properties. [DENIX pp]  The system and the evaluation matrix are in place to implement the clean up and restoration projects.  However, only the Department of Defense could craft the following sentence explaining its goal:

Achieve RC at 90% of IRP sites, MRSs, and BD/DR sites at Active and BRAC installations, and IRP and BD/DR sites at FUDS properties, by the end of FY2018.” *Translation: RC = response complete; IRP = installation restoration program;  MRS = munition response sites; BD/DR = building demolition, debris removal; FUDS = formerly used defense sites.  BRAC = base realignment and closure.

The Department of Defense estimates that it is currently on target to meet this objective at a rate of 79%. Its projected rate is 92%.  The current FUDS rate is 78%, projected to 90%, and the BRAC rate is currently 83%, projected to 90%.  [DENIX pp]  In short, given the level of funding available, the Department of Defense is close to achieving its goal regarding the completion of restoration programs but doesn’t project a 100% “RC” in time for FY 2018.

There are two issues here, large and small.  Taking the smaller chunk first, the Department of Defense is close to meeting its targets for restoration projects, and appears at the ‘every little bit helps’ stage; meaning that the $3.4 million allocation could materially assist the Department in meeting its objectives.

By contrast, the comptroller of the Defense Department reports that the total allocated for Air Force research, development, evaluation, and testing appropriated for FY 2014 is $23,580,637,000 and the base figure for the same category in FY 2015 is $23,739,892,000. [ComptDoD pdf]  A bit of play with the plastic brains yields the information that the Blumenauer’s amendment would cost the Air Force research, development, testing and evaluation some 0.000143 of its budget.

At the heart of the floor debate, such as it was, is ‘seed’ money for a new cruise missile described by Representative Blumenauer as follows, ” The new ALCM does not yet have an official pricetag, but the research we have done suggests it is in the range of 20 to $30 billion. And a rebuilt nuclear warhead to go on it would cost another $12 billion, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.” [ConRec]

Representative Freylinghusen responded:

“This program will provide a new air-launched cruise missile to replace a rapidly aging AGM-86. This is essential to our strategic deterrent and our ability to hold enemy targets at risk from standoff distances.

The Air Force requested $4.9 million for the program in fiscal year 2015 to continue studies and analysis in preparation for a formal acquisition program. This bill already takes a fiscally responsible $1.5 million cut from that amount.” [ConRec]

What have we learned?  That the new ALCM hasn’t gotten far enough off the drawing table to have a projected cost for the weapon.  We can estimate that the project will have the $800 million (or more) price tag discussed back in 2010. [GSN] We also know that the ALCM is a nuclear weapon, but the Pentagon hadn’t decided just what warhead would be fitted to the weapon. [GSN]

At this point the issue raised in a vote on a small amendment to a very large Defense appropriations bill takes on more meaning.

Two of Nevada’s representatives to Congress voted to provide the seed funds for the construction of a new nuclear weapon, one the Air Force considers essential to its “nuclear capacity,” and two did not.  There are some questions which were not raised during the brief discussion of the Blumenauer amendment on the House floor —

What is being said about Congressional priorities if funding for a new nuclear weapon is more essential than cleaning up and restoring formerly used military and defense installation sites?

If the new weapon is essential to the nuclear capacity of the USAF, then under what conditions and circumstances will it be used?  Or to put it rather more bluntly — whom do we intend to nuke and when? Perhaps, the two members of the Nevada congressional delegation who voted against the amendment would care to explain?

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Defense spending, Heck, Politics