Day in Washington Disability Policy Podcast. People with Disabilities and Military – New happenings in 2014.
Hello and welcome to Day in Washington, your disability policy podcast. Together, we will explore and analyze issues of interest to the community. I’m your host Day Al-Mohamed working to make sure you stay informed. Today’s topic is people with disabilities in the military.
I wrote about this some last year. You see, around June of last year, Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, lifted the ban on women in combat. Women would be allowed equal opportunity to participate in combat operations. There have been a variety of responses from the public, but I think that in general most people are generally in favor of the change. And to be fully honest, it wasn’t like this was not happening already. There are women medics, women Military Police (MPs)), women helicopter pilots and women in other positions who, while not officially part of combat units are “attached” to such units or operating under the same or similar conditions. To ignore that reality is to denigrate their risks and their sacrifices.
That discussion lead to the question of “If we are allowing women in to combat, when will we allow people with disabilities to serve?” It would seem that the question has become more than an academic exercise.
Senator Tom Harkin spoke about this with Leon Panetta just this year <audio from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3StRu10qjIQ (0:40 sec to 1:15)>
The idea may sound laughable to some in the general public but the call to serve is just as strong among people with disabilities as any other community.
Keith Nolan, a young man who is deaf who also happened to be a top performer in the California State University ROTC program as a part of a TED Talk said, “All I really want to do is join the Army. I want to do my duty, serve my country and experience that camaraderie, and I can’t, owed to the fact that I’m deaf.” And he isn’t alone. There’s even a Facebook Page for people with disabilities who want to join the military.
The Army’s Continue on Active Duty (COAD) program is putting military men with clear, visible disabilities back into combat, and retaining and retraining others for other forms of active duty. As of June last year, sixty-nine amputees have returned to active duty. Also of note, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, a 100-year old, 47,000-man (and woman) garrison is now commanded by Colonel Gregory D. Gadson. Colonel Gadson is a double-amputee. Perhaps even more impressive is Marine Corporal Garret S. Jones’ recovery and redeployment to a combat zone after losing a leg.
With those preliminary programs already in place and courageous soldiers continuing on in their chosen duty, it was perhaps not surprising to hear Secretary Panetta’s response. <audio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3StRu10qjIQ (1:29 to 1:55)>
On July 30th of this year, Representative Mark Takano filed H.R.5296 a bill to require a demonstration program on the accession as Air Force officers of candidates with auditory impairments. It mirrors a December 2013 bill from Senator Harkin.
A promising project. If an individual with a disability is qualified and capable of meeting the responsibilities and selective criteria that may be necessary for certain jobs and positions, then why not? However, I doubt the issue is quite so simple. I say this because all one has to do is do an internet search to find the discussion on military forums and the response is much more negative.
A previous “test” project used hearing military staff wearing headphones and was less than successful. In addition, several military personnel pointed to Project 100,000 as an example that proves how people with disabilities are unsuitable for the Armed Forces. Project 100,000 was a 1960s program by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to recruit soldiers that would previously have been below military mental or medical standards. Done in part as a response to the escalating conflict in Vietnam and part response to Johnson’s War on Poverty, it would give training and opportunity to “the uneducated and the poor.” These “New Standards Men” still went through the same training and had to achieve the same performance standards. Project 100,000 has received significant criticism over the years and reports and studies have shown higher mortality rates, higher transfers, arrests, and death for those soldiers (some articles even referring to them as “cannon fodder,”) and also significantly poorer outcomes for them as returning veterans.
Even considering all of that, the reality is, just as the case with women, we already have people with disabilities in the military, and some even in war zones. Some are individuals with learning disabilities, some with mental health conditions, or attention deficit disorder, or autism; as well as several amputees. I even know of a naval officer, recently retired, with cerebral palsy and 20 years of service. And this isn’t just an American phenomenon. In 2011, the Israeli Defense Forces were creating an official policy of integrating people who are disabled prior to military service into the armed forces.
People with disabilities, given the examples above, are “already there.” They are already serving in the offices and on the ships; in the medical tents and out in the trenches. The Army (and indeed the other branches) want to keep their investment in these soldiers; the disability isn’t a barrier, at least not compared to the skills and value these individuals bring. Imagine what additional skills and talents would be available to the United States Armed Forces if they had access to the 50 million Americans with disabilities.
No doubt there will be many people watching this legislation very carefully. As always I urge you to read it for yourself. Links are in the comments. I’m your host Day Al-Mohamed hoping that you continue to be well and be informed.
Text of H.R. 5296 – To require a demonstration program on the accession as Air Force officers of candidates with auditory impairments: https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/5296/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22h.r.+5296%22%5D%7D
YouTube Video of Senator Harkin and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3StRu10qjIQ
Women operating under the same or similar conditions as men: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57373592/combat-rules-dont-keep-women-off-battlefield/
Army’s Continue on Active Duty (COAD) Program: http://www.armyg1.army.mil/docs/COAR_COAD_Brief_(9%20APR%2009).pdf
2/7 Marine amputee rejoins battalion; returns to combat after near death experience: http://www.bouhammer.com/2008/10/27-marine-amputee-rejoins-battalion-returns-to-combat-after-near-death-experience/
Keith Nolan and being Deaf in the Military: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/08/ap-army-deaf-man-fighting-for-chance-to-join-082111/ Lawmaker wants trial program for deaf to serve in Air Force: http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20140802/NEWS/308020038/Lawmaker-wants-trial-program-deaf-serve-Air-Force