Attrition: For Those Who Do Not Want To Go

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May 9,2008: Some 2.7 percent of American troops sent to combat zones in the last seven years have had a medical condition that made them "nondeployable." During this time, 1.6 million U.S. troops have been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these are military personnel returning for a second or third tour. These are counted once for each deployment.

The mass media made a big deal out of some of these troops having psychological problems, and Congress is looking for some media love by holding hearings. The reality of all this is less exciting. It usually is.

Back during World War II, the concept of a "medical profile" was developed, and this analysis of each soldiers medical condition determined what kind of duty they were fit for. An injury or disease could make you ineligible for some kinds of activity (like combat, or going overseas.) Since then, some troops have learned how to game the medical profile situation to their benefit. Anyone who's spent some time in uniform over the last 65 years is familiar with this. In response, the military medical personnel, and unit commanders, have worked out responses to dealing with those trying to use the medical profile system to avoid unpleasant, or dangerous, duty. With a war on, in two unpleasant places, there are a lot of troops trying to work the medical profile system to avoid going there.

The majority of troops sent overseas are not involved in combat, and in those cases, the commanders order them to go anyway, with the understanding that they will serve under the same conditions (of work, and medical care) that they received back in the States (or Germany or South Korea, where U.S. troops are stationed, and sometimes ordered to Afghanistan or Iraq). If the proper medical care turns out to not be available, the troops are sent back to the United States. This does not happen very often. Thus in the vast majority of cases, the "nondeployable" are deployed with no adverse effects on their health. Some of these troops claim that their mental health is hurt when they are sent someplace they don't want to go. But that brings up another aspect of this game. The military will discharge anyone who is uncooperative, ineffective or insubordinate. When you try to game the medical profile system, you have to pretend you really want to go but, darn, you have this medical condition. When you are told that the medical condition can be cared for in Afghanistan, you either say, "hey, that's great," or be prepared to end your military career.

 


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