You Don’t Understand – A Message to Those who Haven’t Served

I’m not shy about the fact that I’ve served in the Air Force. In fact, I’m proud of it. It’s given me a perspective of the world that I would’ve never gotten if I hadn’t joined. That’s why every year I travel to visit the graves of the fallen on Memorial Day, that’s why I take the time out of my day to visit their graves throughout the year, not just on one day.

But I promise you this, what goes through my mind when I walk through those fields is different then what goes through your mind. When I look at those grave markers, inscribed with their name, their rank, and their unit, I see more than you do. The drab markers are picture-less, but when I look at each one, I see a face.

Of course, I don’t see the face of the fallen soldier, but when I see a Sergeant, I see myself. I see the face of my children and my wife and see them growing up without a father. When I see a Staff Sergeant, I see my old supervisor, who only has a few more years until retirement. When I see a Private, I see my old troop, an only child whose life could be cut far to short. I see the faces of their parents, their children, their brothers, their sisters, their wives, I see them all and how the world would be different without them.

I see a black hearse driving down the street at Dyess, both sides of the road lined with Airman, saluting their brother one last time as his parents take what’s left of him. I cried that day, and I cry as I walk through the fields where my brothers and sisters are buried.

I get angry when I see kids playing in these fields, but I keep my mouth shut because its not the place. I am barely worthy to walk on the grounds where these heroes are laid to rest, I’m not even close to worthy enough to cause a disturbance on their hallowed ground.

I’ve been to Normandy when I was stationed in Ramstein. I stood atop the cliff overlooking the ocean where those heroes landed. The water that ran red with their blood. I saw the kids playing on the beach but didn’t even deem myself worthy to set foot on the sand.

Trust me when I say if you never served you don’t understand. You can’t look at the marker and see the face that you served with, the reasons that they joined, the family that they have, and what they have to lose. You don’t look at that marker and see the full cost of war.

I was lucky to never have a brother or sister that I served with directly give their life. I was lucky to never have seen combat. I might’ve been in the Air Force, but I was a mechanic, not a desk jockey. I know those that saw combat, I know those that lost friends. I know what the cost of war is, and I know what another major war like those fought in Europe would cost. I can see the cost, I can feel it when I walk through those fields.

So, don’t tell me you understand, just like I’ll never tell a brother that lost a friend that I understand. I don’t see his face on each gravemarker. I don’t see his wife and kids, his brother or his sister. I don’t understand and neither do you.

Medicare for all and Tricare

single payer
Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman

Medicare-for-all is shaping up to be a major focus for Democrats looking to replace President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Still when Kamala Harris came out in favor of eliminating private insurance companies – a staple in most single payer systems, Democrats recoiled.

That begs the question do Democrats really know what they are pushing for when they are demanding a single payer system? The closest resemblance to a single payer system in the United States is Tricare, the health insurance military members are given (For those that want to be technical, Tricare Prime).

And as such I think that it’s the perfect way to evaluate how a single payer system would work in the United States. Yes, I understand the funding will be different, but most Americans DO realize that going to a single payer system would result in an increase in taxes – and by how much is still up for a bit of debate, although countries in Europe provide a good estimate for this.

Now as a military member I had Tricare for several years, so I know a few things about how it works from a user’s perspective.

The cost to the user has to be the biggest advantage in a single payer system – now I understand that we will all be “paying” for it in a national single payer system through taxes, but the difference is it doesn’t matter if you get cancer, you won’t get a bill. It’s stress free, you no longer have to worry about if your health or a freak accident is going to bankrupt you. You don’t have to worry about copays or deductibles, you just know your covered.

My kids have a variety of (small) medical issues, their therapies never cost me a dime on Tricare. When I talked to their doctors about what they needed I never had to ask about the cost, instead I got to ask about what the best treatment options were without having to worry about if I could afford it.

Furthermore, with Tricare preexisting conditions don’t matter. Now to get on Tricare as a military member preexisting conditions are a thing, they won’t let you join the military if you have a multitude of different health concerns, thus excluding you from Tricare. However, for spouses or kids, it doesn’t matter what they have – as soon as they marry the service member everything is 100% covered. With a single payer system, you don’t have to marry a military member to get this kind of full coverage if you have a preexisting condition. Simply by being an American you would have healthcare.

Still the biggest drawback on a single payer system is your ability to choose your doctor. In Tricare you are assigned a primary care doctor who handles all your day to day care and refers you out to other specialists if you need them. While that works great if you have a good primary care doctor, if he isn’t any good it can lead to a lot of headaches. While you can change your primary care doctor it can be a pain.

In a civilian single payer system there would have to be a system to address who you can see, if not everyone is going to want to see the top doctor every time their nose runs. I think a system where you have a choice between 3 primary care doctors – think a family health doctor, that can refer you out to specialists is the way to go. Of course, being limited on who you can see is a definite drawback of the system.

With this information and my personal experience on Tricare I am a strong activist for a single payer system. It is insane that in the United States there are people that lose every dime in their savings account or go into massive debt because they fall and break their arm. It’s even crazier that there are people with cancer that can’t get treatment because they can’t afford it. They are sentenced to die because they can’t afford the care that could save their life. People deserve better, and in America we have the option to give them better, it’s beyond time we did so.

 

Addressing a potential cause of suicide in the Military: BMT

Basic training

I want to start out this story by stating this for whoever might need to hear it. If you are thinking about suicide seek help. It’s never too late to get help and there are people out there that care about you. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak, knowing when you need someone else to help you out is a sign of strength, if you are thinking about taking your own life, talk to someone and get help.

According to data obtained by Stars and Stripes, a military news source, the Marine Corps hit a 10 year high on the number of suicides committed by its members. Overall 75 Marines killed themselves in 2018, up from 42 in 2008.

The majority of those that killed themselves, 63 percent, were under the age of 25.  Additionally, most of those who killed themselves had not seen combat or been deployed overseas. So that rules out the reason for the increase being related to an increase in combat operations and PTSD, not surprisingly so since our troops are seeing less deployments then they were 10 years ago.

Additionally, suicide has become a high focus item in the military, leading to more training and resources then ever to address the issue.

But that begs the question why are troops killing themselves at a growing rate if the job is getting less dangerous and troops are being presented with more options for help?

With such a complex issue there certainly are multiple underlying reasons, but here’s my take on one of the potential causes, backed up only by my own experiences while in the military:

I went to Lackland Air Force Base in 2013 for Basic Military Training (BMT). When I went it was shortly after a massive sexual assault scandal where trainees were being raped by their MTI’s. Following this scandal every policy surrounding trainees and their treatment by MTI’s was looked at, and rightfully so, no one should sign up to serve their country and get raped while in training.

However, a big result of that was on how MTI’s could treat trainees while in training. For instance, they put restrictions on how much physical training (i.e. pushups, sit-ups, flutter-kicks, etc…) they could issue out as a punishment for things, they made it so MTI’s couldn’t cuss at trainees, MTI’s couldn’t throw mail at trainees, and they even gave trainees a “safe space”, although not one a student on a college campus would recognize!

The “safe space” was our day room, you could still get yelled at by a MTI in there, but they couldn’t make you do physical training in there, and they were supposed to take it a little easier on you in there. In fact, I had a MTI put a fellow trainee “on his face” (made him do pushups) in the day room once, realized his mistake, had him move to the hallway to finish his pushups, then APOLOGIZED TO HIM for making him do pushups in the day room. And I’m not talking about a snarky “I’m sorry”, I mean a full “please don’t tell on me” apology.

Now don’t get me wrong, BMT still isn’t a COMPLETE joke, we did have several people washout and go back home because they couldn’t handle it. But we also had people that shouldn’t have made it get pushed through the system.

In my flight we had a trainee try and kill himself. He failed, mainly because he was in a flight of 49 other trainees that ensured he would fail. He left, got the help he needed and moved on with his life. It’s good he didn’t make it through BMT, for his sake.

You see the military isn’t for everyone, and that’s alright. Service members give up a bunch of their rights and freedoms when they join, they go where the military tells them to, do what the military tells them to do, and that’s that. You work whatever hours they tell you to work, without overtime pay or compensation, for relatively little money. It’s a complete change in lifestyle that civilians can’t understand (The changes in lifestyle are far reaching, not just what is mentioned here, it would take an entire post of its own to even begin to address them all).

BMT is supposed to ween people out that aren’t suitable for a military lifestyle. That doesn’t make these people bad or anything, it just means they aren’t cut out for the military, and like I said before, that’s alright.

But by watering down BMT, MTI’s are less able to weed out those individuals that never belonged in the military to begin with. That’s not a good thing. BMT is supposed to stress you the hell out, that’s kind of the point. If you go to war and get put in a combat situation that’s going to be a hell of a lot more stressful then whatever they put you through in BMT.

But it goes beyond that, BMT is temporary, the stress of a military lifestyle is permanent, well at least until your contract is up, so four to six years. If you can’t handle the stress dished out at BMT you’re not going to be able to handle the stress from a military lifestyle.

And the easier they make BMT the more people are going to get pushed through the system that can’t handle the stress of a military lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with those people, everyone has their breaking point, but by making BMT easier we aren’t doing anyone any favors, in fact I think they are putting more lives at risk.

Donald Trump’s absurd cost sharing proposal with South Korea: What does he expect to gain?

camp humphreysThe United States/South Korea alliance is one that has been crucial to stabilize Eastern Asia since the Korean War. With North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, China’s development of military technology, and a resurging Russia, that alliance is more important than ever for both South Korea and the United States.

With that in mind it becomes even more perplexing that both sides have been unable to come to a new deal on the cost sharing measures for U.S. troops that are stationed there. Under the previous deal, South Korea covered roughly half of all the costs associated with the United States military in South Korea, which rang up to roughly 850 million dollars a year.

Additionally, South Korea almost completely funded the expansion to Camp Humphreys, a 11-billion-dollar endeavor. But, for President Donald Trump that’s still not enough. He has called for a 150 percent increase in the amount of funding provided by South Korea, and he wants to have the contract renegotiated every year, instead of every five years like has been done previously.

If President Trump expects to get any where near that much of an increase in defense funding by South Korea, he has lost his mind. When the contract was renegotiated last time, the United States secured an increase of 5.8 percent by South Korea, and 4 percent cap on the inflation rate. Something along those lines is what can be expected this time around and is what is reasonable for South Korea to cover.

What makes this situation more perplexing is the fact that other U.S. allies, like Germany, pay far less of the share then Korea does. Germany pays only 18 percent of the overall cost associated with the United States military being in their country,

So what gives? Many experts think that Donald Trump is trying to gain leverage to use during potential second summit with North Korea, where he can use the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea as a bargaining chip. Just about every expert agrees, this would be a terrible idea.

Congress has taken notice too, that’s why as a part of the defense policy bill for the year it was specified that there will always be a minimum of 22,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea for this fiscal years budget.

Still the question remains, is President Trump looking to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea in exchange for concessions from the North. And as long as it remains a question, it hurts the alliance between the United States and South Korea, and gives our adversaries in the region and edge that they don’t need.

 

The Feres Doctrine and the Military: Why it needs to go

doctors, performing, operation

Every military member that has ever served, or that is currently serving, will agree on this piece of advice for other service members, if you need any kind of medical procedure or advice, try and get a referral off base.

Everyone who has served for any amount of time has seen the horrors that medical has inflicted on service members. While I served, I knew a guy that had his jaw broken by dental, twice. That same guy had back surgery done by a military doctor, they botched it, so he’ll never walk right again.

I knew another service member who got a vasectomy by military doctors, now it hurts every time he has sex because they botched that procedure too. I can’t name all the people I know that have woken up while dental has been taking their wisdom teeth out because the anesthesiologist botched the dosage amount.

Me personally, I was sent for a pre-op appointment following a dislocated finger because the MRI they sent me out for said I had some torn tendons. Only when I got to the civilian doctor, he told me that OF COURSE I had some torn tendons, I had just dislocated my finger, but I certainly didn’t need surgery! His words “anyone who has been through medical school should know this”.

The good news for all these service members dealing with incompetent doctors? There isn’t a damn thing you can do. Thanks to something called the Feres doctrine, military members are barred from opening medical malpractice suits against their military doctors.

Now I certainly didn’t need a medical malpractice suit opened for my case, but what about the case of Sgt. 1st Class Rich Stayskal? His cancer showed up on a scan in January 2017, but did anyone tell him about it? No. How about a few months later when he was passing out and coughing up blood? Nope wasn’t worth mentioning.

It wasn’t until June when he was referred to a NON-MILITARY doctor, that he was told that he had cancer. And by then it had spread. His cancer is now terminal.

How about the case of Rebekah Daniel? She died following child birth due to excessive bleeding five years ago. What caused the excessive bleeding and why couldn’t the military doctors stop it? Well they’re not quite sure and they aren’t trying to find out. They don’t care.

Now don’t get me wrong the Feres doctrine has its worth, military doctors shouldn’t be held liable for treating wounds caused on the battlefield. Those are extraordinary cases where outcomes can’t be guaranteed, and doctors can’t be second guessing themselves.

But during routine medical procedures and care, military doctors should not be allowed to botch the medical care that they provide to military personnel without consequence. There are only two types of doctors in the United States that can practice without medical malpractice insurance, military doctors and civilian doctors that work on military personnel. This needs to change, our military members deserve better.

Dear Congress and Donald Trump: Let Mr. Motawakil into the Country

terminal_e_waiting_areaMohasif Motawakil risked his life by becoming an interpreter for US troops in Afghanistan in 2012. Despite the dangers to himself and his family he made the choice to help the Americans that were there, potentially saving our service members lives.

After waiting for years to be approved Mr. Motawakil finally had approval for him and his family to come live in America as a thank you for his service in Afghanistan. It should have been a time of immense joy for the Motawakil family.

But that was not to be the case. Instead Mr. Motawakil and his family were detained in Houston and they are being threatened with deportation, a fate that will likely lead to them all being killed upon their return, all because Mr. Motawakil’s medical documents were opened when they shouldn’t have been.

And while this is something to be looked into, it shouldn’t be something where deportation is even suggested. This man risked EVERYTHING to help American service members, when it would have been even easier to just turn his back on them and ensure his own safety.

This is not the way to treat people who risk their lives for our people. This is a situation that every Congressman and every Senator should agree on. Let Mr. Motawakil into the country, he and his family have earned that privilege, and please stop threatening to send this man to his death by returning him to Kabul.

 

Trump and his “National Emergency”

CBP_Tours_San_Diego_Border_Wall_Prototypes_with_POTUS_(25935924167).jpgAs President Trump gets more and more frustrated with the government shutdown it seems he is more and more likely to do the unthinkable, declare the lack of a border wall a “national emergency” and try and use the military to build it.

It’s an unthinkable abuse of power, one that would be instantly contested in court, and almost certainly be blocked. But the mere notion of suggesting that the military should be used to enforce a partisan agenda, is terrifyingly dangerous.  

It is not the job of the military to do the bidding of the President in partisan issues. The fact that this is even a thinkable action to be taken goes to show how far the role of Commander in Chief has gone astray.

The role of the Commander in Chief should be to direct troops into wars that have already been authorized in Congress, or direct troops into a war that is being approved by Congress (something that has been abused by Presidents’ of both parties in recent years).

But the use of the United States military to enforce domestic partisan policies significantly raises the risk of the United States taking a step towards becoming an authoritarian government. If the President can order the military to build his wall, why can’t he order the military to enforce drug policies? Isn’t that a national emergency too? What about immigration control in sanctuary cities? The implications of what the President thinks he can do is appalling and terrifying.

And while attempting to use the military to circumvent Congress will be challenged and overturned in the court system, the mere mention of using them degrades our service members. They joined to serve their country and they deserve better then to be used as political pawns by the President to enforce his domestic political agenda.