Opinion | Poker: America’s Military and its Societal Effects

By Analiese Maciel

Deployment of U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. (Getty Images)

Joining the military may seem like a gain worthy task when examining the list of benefits that personnel are guaranteed during and after their years of service, such as tuition assistance, dental care, and even paid housing. However, when closely examining the jobs that citizens willingly sign up for and the potential risks that they could face during their career, it almost makes you wonder why they signed up for this occupation in the first place. It is no secret that recruiters intentionally withhold information from their targeted demographic, which is often young adults, in order to hide the ugly truth of the military. Because of the misinformation promoted through recruiters, America’s teenagers are willingly signing themselves up for future physical and emotional health effects from their service, due to the bribes offered by the United States government.

There is no denying that joining the military can offer individuals with support and important opportunities. There are countless benefits that uniformed personnel are given, one being any dental or health care being covered at an extremely minimal cost. Most Active Duty personnel take part in a service called TRICARE, which has numerous plans such as TRICARE Prime (a range of doctors located within a specific network), TRICARE Select (paying a small copay every time you attend a doctor’s visit while not requiring referral from primary care physicians), and TRICARE Young Adult (covers adult children who have aged out of their sponsor’s regular tricare coverage). TRICARE also has a dental program, which costs as low as $11.00 a month for single dependents and $30 for family coverage.

In addition to healthcare benefits, depending on the branch you join, military personnel can be eligible for cash bonuses, which offer large amounts of cash with no payback or tax rate on them. In May of 2019, the Army offered a high amount of cash from a range of $15,000 to $40,000 for select recruits who chose infantry or indirect fire crewmen. The amount included in your bonus depends on the length of enlistment.

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons civilians decide to join the military is for the paid tuition benefits. In America alone, fifty-six percent of students said their families can’t afford to pay for college, and about half of undergraduates said they must determine how to pay for school because of the pandemic’s impact on their finances. Some other popular paths that students take in order to receive a funded education include joining JROTC, ROTC, and service academies. Although JROTC doesn’t come with any benefits, it does advertise the military to high schoolers and makes them more inclined to join ROTC or enlist in the military as a regular member of the military once they reach adulthood. In the same way that individuals who are exposed to drinking at a younger age are more likely to develop unhealthy drinking habits in adulthood, individuals who are in the JROTC are more likely to join the military or the ROTC as adults. Even though these individuals might realize the negative effects, both mental and physical, of their choices, they are still much more likely to go through with their actions because it is what has become normalized to them. Aside from that, the ROTC allows students to have a generally normal college experience in addition to military training and, after completing college, binds them to joining the military as an officer. This is similar to service academies, but differs largely with the quality of life that students obtain during these four years. Unlike ROTC cadets that have finished the program, service academies force their students to attend basic training their first summer before attending. Academies like the United States Military Academy, Naval Academy, and Air Force Academy provide a 6 week program to transition these cadets from civilians to military students. In addition to this basic training program, cadets often have a rigorous schedule filled with military training, physical education, and extracurriculars in addition to their regular classes. The cadet lifestyle is mentally and physically demanding, but also comes with benefits like paid compensation in addition to getting your bachelors degree tuition-free and medicare.

Making this situation worse, the No Child Left Behind Act signed by George W. Bush in 2002 guaranteed that military recruiters be given the same access to high schools as college recruiters. This is an extremely strategic move in the favor of the military because it allows them to visit low-income neighborhoods where students do not have sufficient funds to continue their education, which increases the number of students likely to join the military. A study was conducted during the 2011–2012 school year to record the number of times army recruiters visited two high schools in Connecticut; one being higher-income, and one being low-income. Army recruiters visited the higher-income school just four times. Meanwhile, those same recruiters visited the low-income school over 40 times. Both schools were in the same district, the only difference between them being the median wealth of the students’ families. Because low income students are unable to pay for college, recruiters push enlistment as an easier and more manageable option than taking out a loan or going into debt. When you finish your time in service as Active Duty, you are given scholarships and paid benefits, depending on the branch you enlist in, which is an extremely tempting offer for lower income individuals. However, military recruiters do not belong in high school environments, for most high school students are still adolescents and therefore should not bear the weight of protecting their country or even going to war simply due to the fact that they are teenagers. Teenagers engage in risky behavior all the time, such as reckless driving, and because enlisting comes with little to no warning of what you are getting yourself into, it is obvious that most students simply see joining the military as an easier option due to a lack of income without considering the future repercussions.

Within the amount of benefits also comes an extreme amount of risks that can leave lasting effects against uniformed personnel. For instance, despite what branch you are in, there is always a chance that you or your platoon can be deployed to a dangerous area. Although the 60% of individuals deployed is not a relatively high percentage, of that 60%, 10% are deployed to a combat zone, which in itself causes numerous hazards for the veterans involved. These hazards include mental illness, which is also worsened due to the lack of care within the Veterans Affairs department. Of the veterans involved in the Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, 11–20 out of 100 veterans were diagnosed with PTSD, and 11% of all veterans have depression. The Veteran Affairs department is not a large help with combating mental illness within the military either, as numerous veterans have stated that they were simply prescribed pills in order to deal with their issues. This is highly ineffective and dangerous as some mental illnesses could be worsened by the integration of pills in their daily routine. Additionally, if not regulated, these pills can lead to an addiction or even suicide — all while these issues could be fixed with specialized therapy.

One issue that we have seen throughout numerous wars as well is the struggle of integration within regular societies, which is needed for all veterans, not just those with mental illnesses. A study conducted on veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that 18% of veterans had problems with holding a job because of difficulty with controlling aggressive behaviors, and also because of the mental health issues associated with deployment. There is also difficulty with integrating within their own families too, as veterans often come home feeling lonely and alienated because life did not stop when they left — life continued going, making them feel unneeded and isolated. After their times of service, a large number of veterans (40,000) end up becoming homeless due to the lack of support systems and plague of mental illnesses. Becoming homeless isn’t the only option for veterans either, as there is an estimated 180,000 veterans serving time in prison due to their mental disorders, substance abuse issues, and simply a struggle with reintegrating back into the civilian lifestyle. From this, we can tell that a large number of veterans face a debilitating amount of risk-factors that affect their day to day lives and ability to function in normal society.

Some of the last risks that uniformed personnel face are broken leadership within their service and from this issue, a higher rate of sexual assault. In 2016, 14,900 members of the military were raped and this number only continued to get higher. In 2017 the DoD reported that the rate of sexual assault increases about 10% each year. This is an issue related directly to leadership positions as well, as 59% were assaulted by someone with a higher rank than them. Furthermore, after reporting these crimes victims faced retaliation — specifically 64% of women faced retaliation in the form of being discharged. Men and women also face a large lack of support in this prospect as well, as one member was told to “stop playing the victim card” and transferred several times in hopes that her performance would increase. As per Army conduct, soldiers are supposed to be referred for evaluation and put into programs with therapy and counseling. However, if not shown enough improvement, you could be given an OER (Officer Evaluation Report) mark of referred, which creates a large stain on the soldier’s resume and ultimately paints the soldier in a negative light, taking away any opportunities to progress in their career. This practically forces soldiers to choose between their mental health or their career. In addition to this, one of the largely popular phrases coined by military sociologist Charles Mosko — “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, also created a disturbing lack of account for victims who may have been raped by personnel of the same gender. Although there has been a removal of the policy in September of 2011, it raises the question of how many people were unaccounted for within rape statistics between the years of 1994 to 2011.

One of the primary motives of basic training is to force civilians to make the transition from a functioning member of society to uniformed personnel, and with that leaves a gap between the person they used to be and the person they are now, almost “breaking” the person into becoming someone new — someone that follows all rules, speaks when spoken to, addresses authority figures with no question, and takes consequences without batting an eye. With this breakage, it causes people to shut off their emotions and detach themselves from harmful situations. When considering this practice, it makes sense why there is such a lack of support — to maintain this detachment and to fulfill their promises of being a member of the military with no interference in their work. Even with these studies and statistics, the military still has not reformed the system properly, as sexual assault has seen a 40% increase from the years of 2016 to 2018, and it is inferred that these rates will continue rising unless sexual assault is handled properly. The only priority that the military has on their minds is upholding the image of protecting all American citizens from global threats and maintaining the freedoms that past military personnel have fought so long and hard to gain, which is another reason why it makes it so easy to ignore problems; if they maintain a pristine reputation of fighting for freedom, it almost makes the issues of the internal corruption in the military disappear under a fake façade.

Even programs with proven track records of helping homeless veterans are being under-utilized. (Getty Images)

As we have discussed throughout this article, joining the military is simply a gamble — either with your physical health, mental health, or winning with a cash bonus and free college. Because civilians and veterans live in two different worlds, it is hard to bring awareness to these issues, but defeating the issues presented above calls for the necessity of conversation in both worlds — not just in the military realm. Currently, there is an act trying to be passed by the name of The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, and this act would move crimes such as murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide under a new system that would require defense secretaries to improve physical security in military installations (i.e. locks, cameras) and increasing training for commanders and other members on sexual assault. In addition to this, there are many organizations that provide assistance to Veterans, such as Protect Our Defenders, the Military Rape Crisis Center, Lone Survivor Foundation, PTSD Alliance, and numerous others as well. Though there is much work to be done, this is just the beginning of fixing conditions in the United States Army.

Analiese Maciel is a rising high school senior from Warwick, New York and a blog writer for Youth Upholding Democracy. The views reflected in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Youth Upholding Democracy.

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