Smaller Army Will Affect Guard and Reserve: Military Connection

Smaller Army Will Affect Guard and Reserve

By Debbie Gregory.

In facing future security challenges, taking current and future defense strategies and budgetary constraints into consideration, the Army of tomorrow may be smaller and leaner. It may be an Army that is agile, flexible, and rapidly deployable. But tomorrow’s Army may also have an impact on the part-time soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard, resulting in more frequent deployments

The Army is looking at ways to blend its active-duty and Reserve branches in a time of tightening budgets.

“After 12 years of war, we need to ask the Army, ‘what capabilities don’t you have now, and what capabilities perhaps do you wish you did?’ ” said Thomas Lamont, one of three members of the National Commission on the Future of the Army. Lamont, a former assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and Reserve affairs, has been interviewing military leaders, observing training and participating in an open forum to hear from veterans.

The commissioners have been traveling around the country, talking to governors who want to maintain a robust National Guard. Ten years ago, approximately 115,000 citizen soldiers were on overseas orders, which limited their ability to respond to domestic emergencies.

Currently, about 10,000 National Guard members are activated for federal assignments, National Guard Chief Gen. Frank Grass is pushing for his troops to do more.

“The Reserve component is not being utilized as much as they would like, and they believe they have capacity and desire to provide a more important role,” Lamont said.

The active-duty Army is shedding about 120,000 soldiers from its peak strength at the end of the Iraq War of about 570,000 troops. The Army drawdown will likely be achieved in large degree by controlling accessions (the number of people allowed to join the Army). If limiting accessions is not enough to achieve the desired end strength targets, the Army can employ a variety of involuntary and voluntary drawdown tools, such as Selective Early Retirement Boards and Reduction-in-Force.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Addressing Mental Healthcare Stigma: Military Connection

Addressing Mental Healthcare Stigma

By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon and VA are becoming more proactive in promoting mental health treatment to troops and veterans, but many still refuse to get care, concerned about stigma, their jobs and psychiatric medications

Negative perceptions of mental health conditions and treatment continue to keep troops and veterans from seeking care, but the issue is larger than just the stigma of a diagnosis; it is complicated by concerns over keeping their careers and not wanting to be medicated, panelists said.

Various mental health groups are diligently working to destigmatize mental health issues. Among the groups that Military Connection works with are the Campaign to Change Direction, Give an Hour, and the Soldiers Project, just to name a few.

While stigma regarding mental health conditions is not unique to the military, it does seem to hit the military and veteran communities harder, perhaps due to the culture.

The number of first-time mental health diagnoses among active-duty members has risen steadily, from 132,079 in 2000 to 232,184 in 2012, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

And mental health diagnoses are the third most common diagnoses at VA behind musculoskeletal ailments and ill-defined conditions.

Another concern regarding treatment is fear of taking medication. While many patients can take medications without experiencing bad side effects, some antidepressants and other psychiatric drugs have side effects such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, lethargy and more, and troops are hesitant to take anything that affects their game.

The government has quadrupled its mental health programs in the past six years. But it can do more, the experts said, to include promoting mental health care and understanding among primary care physicians, who can serve as liaisons between patients and mental health providers, promote community services and collaborate with community and private health organizations.

According to Navy Capt. Michael Colston, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, mental health treatment must become accepted by the mainstream.

“Mental health care is health care.  As for the self-stigma, we need to do research on that to determine how to fix it,” Colston said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Defense Spending Bill Showdown: Military Connection

Defense Spending

By Debbie Gregory.

The Senate and House Armed Services committees have reconciled their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, setting the stage for a veto showdown with the Obama Administration.

The House passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act Thursday after the House and Senate Armed Services committees reached agreement on a final conference report earlier this week.

On September 30th, t This year, the White House urged Republicans to lift federal budget caps for the Pentagon and non-defense spending in 2016. The Republican-proposed budget would leave those caps in place for non-defense spending but boost defense spending through a war fund not subject to those caps established in 2011.

President Obama has issued a veto threat against the bill, which senior administration officials warn he will follow through on. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday he has already recommended that the president veto it.

In regards to what would happen if the president does veto the bill, a senior staffer on the House Armed Service Committee said, “We’ll see what happens and move from there.”

The current version of the bill would keep the ban on bringing detainees from Guantanamo to the United States for another year. According to Sen. McCain, the Obama administration did not deliver a plan on where to house the detainees.

Other provisions of the bill would continue a ban on transfers to Yemen and add bans on transfers to Syria, Libya and Somalia. It would also allow one-year increases in military healthcare prescription co-pays. It would allow troops who serve fewer than 20 years to receive some retirement benefits, and allow troops to be able to take a lump sum payment after 20 years instead of waiting until they are 60 years old.

The bill would also allow the U.S. to provide arms to Ukraine; provide for coordination between the DoD and VA on mental health issues; allow troops on U.S. bases to carry arms, and ban torture by any U.S. agency.

Questioning Standards for Female Rangers: Military Connection

Female Rangers

By Debbie Gregory.

High-ranking Army officials met with Rep. Steve Russell, R-OK, the congressman who has questioned the process that produced the first two women Ranger School graduates.

On September 15th, Russell, a Ranger-qualified retired Army lieutenant colonel with combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh. In it, he requested patrol grade sheets, spot reports, phase evaluation reports and sick call reports for Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, the first women to graduate from Ranger School.

Now, a group of female West Point graduates is pushing back, filing a Freedom of Information Act request, demanding the congressman’s Ranger School records.

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“If Congressman Russell claims that Rangers lie, and can be influenced to ignore standards, perhaps he experienced that when he went through Ranger School. We would like to see definitive proof that he is entitled to his tab,” said Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and 1980 West Point graduate, on behalf of the group.

“One of the things that’s motivated us is that this is the same stuff that’s gone on for 40 years,” she said.

Russell wrote a Facebook post that said, “The records request on the recent Ranger classes that included females is to investigate serious allegations that are being made by members of the military.” The allegations were that standards were lowered to allow the women to graduate.

Army officials have repeatedly denied the women received special treatment.

After Griest and Haver’s graduation, the Army officially opened Ranger School to all who qualified regardless of gender.

Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, 89, whose name is etched in Army Ranger lore, said that he welcomes the women and supports the leadership of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, Col. David Fivecoat and Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold.

“I will say the same thing I said before, they met the standards and they deserve the tab,” Puckett said.

Miller, Fivecoat, Arnold and the Ranger instructors who oversee the course would not be a party to saying the standards were met if they weren’t, Puckett said.

Throughout the entire process, Army officials — including Miller, Fivecoat and Arnold — have maintained the standards were not lowered.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.