November 10, 2005
week the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative unit of
Congress, released a
indicating that the Pentagon has been calling up reserve soldiers who are
ill or medically unfit to serve. The reservists are serving primarily in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the Office of the Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness is responsible for managing medical
and physical fitness policy and procedures, the report determined that
this office has no way to determine if reserve soldiers are fit to serve
or have pre-existing medical conditions prior to deployment.
Consequently, the GAO found
that the Pentagon couldn’t confirm to the Secretary of Defense or Congress
that reserve forces are medically and physically fit when they are called
to active duty. Yet under federal law reserve forces are required to have
a medical exam every five years and an annual review of their medical
The report also found that
the Defense Department has not even determined what type of pre-existing
medical conditions would preclude a reservist from being called to duty.
Consequently, it doesn’t track the pre-existing conditions of reserve
soldiers being deployed. According to the surgeon’s office of the
commander of the U.S. Central Command, "there were many instances of
individuals who deployed into Iraq and Afghanistan with conditions for
which they should have been considered non-deployable."
Given the recruitment
shortages that the armed services currently face, it shouldn’t be
surprising that reservists in poor health are being called up. When the
2005 fiscal year ended in September, the Army was 7,000 recruits short of
its annual goal. This was the largest gap in recruitment since 1979 when
the draft was abolished. And it was the first recruitment shortage for the
Army since 1999. The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve had even
greater recruitment shortages this year.
The Army has taken various
approaches to its lackluster recruitment efforts. It increased it
advertising budget by $130 million for 2006. Over the course of fiscal
year 2005 the Army handed out $207 million in bonuses to recruits and
those who re-enlisted. This was a sizable increase over 2004, when $125
million was distributed as bonuses. The Army gave a bonus of a least
$1,000 to 53 percent of new recruits between October 2004 and June 2005;
the average bonus was $5,589.
The Army’s maximum bonus of
$20,000 was distributed to six percent of new recruits. And the Pentagon
has already made a request to Congress to double the maximum bonus for
2006 to $40,000. The Army is also handing out bonuses of $400 per month
for three years for soldiers with much-needed skills, such as infantry.
Last Month, Army Secretary
Francis J. Harvey announced that because of the recruitment shortages, the
Army will now double the number of recruits it accepts who score the
lowest on the intelligence test administered to all potential recruits.
Secretary Harvey also announced that the Army was decreasing its
requirement that the recruiting class each year be comprised of at least
67 percent of applicants who scored in the top half of the intelligence
test. The portion has now been lowered to 60 percent.
What has not been known until
now is that recruitment shortages have resulted in the Pentagon calling up
reservists who are ill or medically unfit. According to the GAO report,
this includes reservists who have suffered from heart attacks, those with
severe asthma (weather conditions in the desert exacerbates this
condition), hernias, severe hypertension, and a woman who was four months
into chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. It also includes reservists
suffering from sleep apnea who need medical equipment to help them breath,
yet large portions of Iraq and Afghanistan lack the electricity necessary
to run the equipment.
Reserve forces that are
diabetic and require insulin pumps have been called to active duty. A
soldier was called up only two weeks after receiving a kidney transplant.
Other reservists have required kidney dialysis. The GAO report also found
that reserve soldiers have been called to active duty that suffer from
psychiatric problems, including bipolar disorder. By one estimate as much
as ten percent of the reservists who have been medically evacuated out of
the Middle East was attributable to pre-existing medical conditions that
could not be treated properly.
The GAO report ominously
concluded, "The impact of those who are not medically and physically fit
for duty could be significant for future deployments as the pool of
reserve members from which to fill requirements is dwindling and those who
have deployed are not in as good health as they were before deployment."
The findings of this report are particularly ironic, considering that one
year ago President Bush won re-election in large part because he convinced
military families that he would protect the armed forces better than
Senator Kerry. Consequently, veterans voted for President Bush by a
16-point margin. Many of them are likely having second thoughts today.
American history at a small college in suburban Dallas, and is a
contributing author to the forthcoming book Americana at War. His
previous articles have appeared in Dissident Voice, Political
Affairs Magazine, The Free Press, Intervention Magazine,
The Modern Tribune, and The Palestine Chronicle. He can be