Tag Archives: Defense Department

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger: Military must pursue alternatives to burning munitions

With President Barack Obama’s signature on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a nationwide grassroots campaign to ensure the safe disposal of conventional munitions stockpile secured a key victory.

The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will benefit hundreds of communities across the country where open air burning of hazardous waste is routinely conducted by the Departments of Defense and Energy, according to a news release.

“I have been working on cleaning up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant since I first entered Congress, so I was proud to fight for this reform to help other communities facing similar challenges,” Baldwin said, according to the release. “This provision will assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions to ensure that other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was.”

“I was proud to support and help shepherd through the Senate, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a provision important to Madison County and the Blue Grass Army Depot community allowing the Army to use cost-competitive technologies to safely and efficiently dispose of stockpiles of legacy conventional munitions,” added U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The new act requires the Secretary of the Army to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study of the alternatives to the current practice of open burning the conventional munitions stockpile of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense manages conventional ammunition that includes items ranging from small arms cartridges to rockets, mortars, and artillery to tactical missiles.

As of February 2015, the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal was approximately 529,373 tons.

By fiscal year 2020, the stockpile is expected to more than double, making the proper management and disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. 

“Open burning and detonation of munitions causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment,” said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin and an organizer with the Cease Fire Campaign – a national grassroots coalition of 60 environmental, labor, veterans and social justice organizations calling for safer alternatives. 

Sites like the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee are currently permitted to open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds net explosive waste per year — ignoring a 2012 Army Corps of Engineers study that concluded there are cutting-edge technologies that could be successfully deployed at Holston to replace open burning.

“There are over 100 hazardous chemicals released from open burning waste explosives and explosives-contaminated construction demolition debris that can be toxic and carcinogenic,” cautioned Connie & Mark Toohey with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice and residents living downwind of Holston. “Dioxins are highly toxic and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.”

Also, for more than 60 years, the U. S. military used the offshore Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for training exercises with live bombing, experimental use of conventional and non-conventional weapons, testing with napalm, agent orange, uranium and open burning and open detonation (OB/OD),” said Myrna Pagan with Vidas Viequenses Valen. “For over 10 years now there is a process of cleanup and restoration underway where OB/OD continues to contaminate this small island.”

“OB/OD is a dangerous, toxic and outdated method that feeds a health crisis of alarming rates of cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Myrna added.  “Our little children, our teen agers have more than three times the probability of dying from cancer than their peers in the rest of Puerto Rico. We citizens depend on responsible action from the government to protect our rights to good health in a safe environment. We deserve the use of reliable, alternative, advanced technologies to repair this disaster.”

The National Academy of Sciences study is due to Congress in 18 months. 

DOD removes barriers to transgender troops serving openly

The Defense Department on June 30 announced an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the Armed Forces.

“Today, our nation has taken another important step forward by ensuring that qualified, transgender Americans can openly serve the country they love,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. “Breaking down this barrier is a historic action for transgender service members, who will no longer be forced to serve in silence. I applaud Secretary Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this step to make our Armed Forces stronger and staying true to our American values of fairness and equality for all.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on the last day of LGBT Pride month. He set forth a yearlong process for implementing the DOD’s plan and said “Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so.”

At a news conference, the secretary said, “Our mission is to defend this country and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

By Oct. 1, transgender troops serving in the military will have access to full medical care, including surgery, and begin formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon personnel system.

In a year, Carter said the services would be prepared for transgender individuals to enlist.

The AP reported that people with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who have had reconstruction surgery, may be disqualified as military recruits unless a medical provider certifies they have been clinically stable in their gender for 18 months and are free of significant impairment. Also, transgender troops receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on their medications for 18 months.

The policy provides broad guidelines for transgender service members in active duty. They will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms and fitness standards that correspondence with their gender identity only after they have made a legal transition.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries.

“Today, we join in celebration with the thousands of brave transgender patriots who will now be able to serve our nation openly and with the deep respect they deserve,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Ending this discriminatory policy not only brings long-overdue recognition to transgender service members, it also strengthens our military and our nation. Our military will now be able to recruit the very best candidates, and retain highly-trained, talented transgender service members once facing discharge for no other reason than who they are. History will remember Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this historic and necessary step forward.”

According to the Williams Institute, there are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in America.

Unlike the statutory ban that interfered with lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving — known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the ban on transgender military service was a policy and required only action by the DOD to update.

“Today’s victory is a tremendous one for a nation that once denied women, African-Americans, and gay and lesbian individuals the opportunity to serve,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “An integrated military, now inclusive of all LGBT service members, is not only a sound military approach but a moral imperative for our nation. This was true in 1948, when this country first allowed women and African-Americans to serve in the military; in 2011, when the ban was lifted on gay and lesbian service members; and remains true today.”

DOD to lift transgender military ban by July 1

The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to announce by July 1 an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in our military.

“At long last, thousands of brave transgender patriots will be able to serve our nation openly with the respect they deserve,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a news release. “This historic announcement will not only extend long-overdue recognition to thousands of transgender service members, it will strengthen our military and our nation. By turning the page on this disgraceful policy, we will now be able to recruit and retain the very best candidates, rather than discharging highly-trained, talented transgender service members for no other reason than who they are.”

In July 2015, the Pentagon announced a working group to study how to modify existing regulations to allow open transgender military service.

The working group was expected to complete its review after six months and provide options for how to address the various regulations needed to be updated in order to allow for open service by transgender people.

According to the Williams Institute, there are about 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in the United States.

But Defense Department medical regulations prohibit transgender service and require separation from the military if discovered.

HRC said the outdated regulations have significant implications for military readiness and on the transgender service members who are currently risking their lives around the world — sometimes in combat zones.  A service member who is able to be open and honest about his or her gender identity and receive appropriate care is more productive and more focused on their job.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in armed forces. U.S. service members have been serving alongside their transgender counterparts from these allied forces since at least 2001.

Unlike the now repealed statutory ban against lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, the ban on transgender military service is policy and can be removed by the Defense Department.

“This decision is a great victory for the many trans people who have served and sacrificed in the military over the years. They also served in fear of being discharged from the service for simply being who they are. Thankfully this now will change. We look forward to hearing more implementation details,” said Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

AP investigation | Child sex abusers form largest category of inmates in military prisons

As a U.S. Marine, Daniel E. DeSmit swore to live by a code of honor. Semper fidelis, always faithful. But DeSmit shattered that pledge repeatedly — directing dozens of live Internet videos of children having sex with each other.

DeSmit, a chief warrant officer and father of three, spent at least $36,000 viewing and producing child pornography over a span of six years. In emails examined by Navy criminal investigators, DeSmit described his preference for sex with prepubescent girls as “the best experience.”

A military judge in January found DeSmit, 44, guilty of a litany of sex offenses and sentenced him to 144 years behind bars. But he’ll serve just a fraction of that time. In an undisclosed pretrial agreement, the Marine Corps slashed his prison term to 20 years. When The Associated Press asked for the investigative report in DeSmit’s case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service rejected the Freedom of Information Act request on privacy grounds. The report was released only after AP appealed.

DeSmit’s crimes are not all that uncommon. Neither is the misleading prison sentence.

An AP investigation found the single largest category of inmates in military prisons to be child sex offenders. Yet a full accounting of their crimes and how much time they actually spend behind bars is shielded by an opaque system of justice.

Child sex assaults committed by service members have received scant attention in Washington, where Congress and the Defense Department have focused primarily on preventing and prosecuting adult-on-adult crimes. And those steps were belated. Despite years of warning signs that adult sexual assault in the ranks was a persistent problem, it took a documentary film about the situation to shock lawmakers and military leaders into action.

Of the 1,233 inmates confined in the military’s prison network, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes, according to the AP’s analysis of the latest available data, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. In just over half of those cases, the victims were children.

Since the beginning of this year, children were the victims in 133 out of 301 sex crime convictions against service members — including charges ranging from rape to distributing child pornography.

“This disturbing report exposes, once again, that our military’s justice system has glaring and unacceptable failures,” Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said Wednesday of AP’s investigation. Tsongas, co-chair of the congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said she will be taking a closer look at what she described as “alarming findings.”

The military justice system operates independently of state and federal criminal courts. The U.S. Constitution mandates a presumption of openness in civilian courts — trials are open to the public, as are court filings, including motions and transcripts, with exceptions for documents that have been sealed. Anyone can walk into any county or U.S. courthouse and ask to read a case file without providing a reason beyond curiosity. That openness is designed to provide accountability.

But visibility in connection with military trials is minimal. While brief trial results are now made public, court records and other documents are released only after many FOIA requests, appeals and fees, and often months of waiting. While military trials are technically “open,” as are civilian trials, they take place on military bases, which are closed to the general public.

Over the past five months, AP has filed 17 separate requests under the FOIA for documents from more than 200 military sexual assault cases that ended with convictions. At the time this story was published, the military services had provided complete trial records for five cases and partial records for more than 70 others.

Under military law, children are defined as “any person who has not attained the age of 16 years.” Victims aged 16 and 17 are counted as adults, which is consistent with age-of-consent laws in most states.

Data on sex crimes committed by civilians is not comparable to the conviction and confinement figures maintained by the Pentagon. But a 2013 study of child maltreatment by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and Pentagon data indicate incidents of child sexual abuse are higher in the general population than among military families.

Asked why the biggest group of military inmates is behind bars for sex crimes against kids, Defense Department officials said judges and juries view these crimes as intolerable and are more likely to impose harsher prison terms. Adult sexual assault cases can be more ambiguous, particularly if alcohol is involved, and punishments can vary. They also said military prosecutors pursue verdicts in cases their civilian counterparts would never take to court, and the confinement numbers reflect that commitment.

Air Force Col. Chuck Killion, director of the Air Force judiciary, said that since 2008 the Air Force has secured convictions in 199 out of 223 child sexual assault cases — an 89 percent rate.

“It’s not as if there are child sex crimes being swept under the rug somewhere,” Killion said. “We simply don’t do that.”


While child sex crimes may not be swept under the rug, the Defense Department does not make it easy for the public to learn about them.

After DeSmit’s conviction in January, the Marine Corps summed up the case in two sentences.

“At a General Court-Martial at Okinawa, Japan, Chief Warrant Officer 4 D. E. DeSmit was convicted by a military judge alone of conspiracy to commit sexual assault and rape of children, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, sexual abuse of a child and possession of child pornography. The military judge sentenced the accused to 144 years of confinement, a reprimand and dismissal,” a summary of the court-martial released by the Marine Corps read.

And that’s all the service would have said publicly, had the AP not pressed for more.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service initially said releasing its 198-page investigative report on DeSmit would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The AP appealed the denial, and the Navy judge advocate general’s office overruled NCIS, declaring the agency’s decision overly broad and instructing it to release all material within the report not exempted from disclosure. NCIS investigations, which include evidence from the crime scene and witness interviews, are not court documents but are used by military leaders to decide what action to take against a service member.

NCIS blacked out all the names in the report, including DeSmit’s. The AP identified him by the dates and events left in the document.

The effect of the policy is an enhanced degree of privacy for convicted service members not available to civilian defendants. Most records from criminal cases in state and federal courts are public, although the privacy of the victims of violent crime is protected.

DeSmit bragged about having sex with 8- and 9-year-old girls while on vacation in Thailand. He was emailing and chatting online with a Filipino woman, Eileen Ontong, who’d supplied him with child pornography for the past six or seven years, records show. He was planning a similar two-week vacation to the Philippines.

In these online chats, DeSmit told Ontong what he wanted from the prepubescent girls she would provide him when he visited. He described his preferred ages and body types.

“No chubby for me,” DeSmit wrote. “And no really skinny for me.” Ontong assured him a particular girl he’d requested was on a diet in preparation for his visit.

DeSmit was concerned about what sex acts these children would perform with him when he visited, according to the records. DeSmit said he wanted Ontong to ensure that he had sex every day.

“It has to happen,” he wrote.

DeSmit joined the Marine Corps in 1991. He is from Kalamazoo, Michigan, has been married twice and has three children. He was stationed in California, North Carolina, Virginia, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Japan.

The investigation into DeSmit began in December 2012 when a civilian Navy employee was caught with thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of children. Investigators tracked his payments through a Western Union account to Ontong. She was considered the “queen” of child pornography in Cordova, a poor fishing town in the central Philippines.

It wasn’t long before investigators learned DeSmit was the biggest single customer of Ontong’s operation, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case. The official, who confirmed DeSmit’s role and other aspects of the case, was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

DeSmit “directed” about 80 live videos, asking for certain children by name and instructing them what to do. In one video, two children were asked to kiss each other on the mouth and breasts, according to the case file. DeSmit told investigators he would masturbate while watching these videos. One child said she was paid $3.41 per show.

Ontong was arrested in May 2013, and her trial in the Philippines is ongoing. The National Bureau of Investigation — the Philippines’ counterpart to the FBI — said there were about 30 victims altogether, and a few were as young as 3.

One of the victims was ordered to participate by her mother. “I was shy and nervous,” the victim said in a sworn police statement. “I hesitated to follow the instructions of my mother but my mother would remind me that I should do it to pay our debts.”

DeSmit eventually canceled his trip to the Philippines.

Officials said his crimes discredited the Marine Corps. “No one expects Marines to engage in this type of conduct. It degrades our standards and the public’s perception of our service,” one of the court records said. “Our foreign allies would lose respect for our service upon learning that one of our most experienced officers was involved in this type of conduct while deployed on their soil in furtherance of U.S. policy.”


The most significant detail missing from the Marine Corps’ brief public summary was the pretrial agreement limiting DeSmit’s prison time to 20 years, not 144 as the service initially said. He pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including conspiracy to commit rape of a child.

He’ll do even less time if he is eventually paroled. In the military justice system, DeSmit could be released from prison after serving one-third of his term.

In federal courts, judges have the final say in determining the length of a sentence. Parole wouldn’t be an option either. It was eliminated for federal defendants convicted of crimes after 1987.

Both the military and civilian court systems make use of plea deals before cases go to trial. Defendants gamble that a guilty plea will lead to a lesser sentence than they might get from a judge or jury. But military judges are not allowed to review the pretrial agreement before sentencing, and their decisions are not binding. The defendant always gets the lesser sentence.

In civilian courts, by contrast, the judge is privy to terms of any pretrial agreement, called a plea bargain, and has the final say. A judge could decide the agreed-upon sentence is too lenient and impose a different one.

DeSmit is one of dozens of sex offenders who have received pretrial deals, according to AP’s analysis of the summarized results of courts-martial released monthly by three of the four military services — the Air Force does not disclose the existence of pretrial agreements in its summaries. Since the beginning of July alone, 31 soldiers, sailors and Marines were convicted of sex crimes against children. In 20 cases, there were pretrial agreements.

Before July, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps didn’t mention the plea deals. And as DeSmit’s case demonstrates, the omissions can dramatically misrepresent the actual prison sentence.

At Parris Island, South Carolina, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Ike V. Chisholm was convicted in April of raping and sexually abusing a child, according to the court-martial summary. Chisholm was sentenced to 30 years confinement, the summary said.

But under the terms of a pretrial deal not mentioned, Chisholm’s confinement is limited to 10 years. The Marine Corps disclosed the agreement in a response to questions from the AP, which learned of Chisholm’s reduced sentence through his attorney.

Army Spc. David L. Benitez pleaded guilty in July to sexual assault of a child and his prison term was reduced by 15 years — from 25 to 10. Navy Seaman Apprentice David Olson got three years behind bars instead of nine after he pleaded guilty in September to sexual abuse of a child and unlawful entry.

Before 2013, the services didn’t even publish trial outcomes in a centralized way. The Navy was the first to make the monthly results available, a move it said would lead to greater transparency.

However, there is no uniform method for releasing the summaries, which provide the names of the convicted, the dates of conviction, lengths of sentences and a brief description of the crimes. The Army publishes only three months of trial results at a time. When the September results were posted, the June results were removed and were no longer accessible online.

Documents from court-martial proceedings, such as the charges, courtroom transcripts and pretrial agreements, are available only through the FOIA, a potentially time-consuming process with no assurances the requested documents will be released.

Conversely, records from most federal court cases are available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, known as PACER. The military does not have a comparable repository.

“I can sit at my computer in New Haven and find out what was filed five minutes ago in a case in federal district court in Seattle,” said Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard judge advocate who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and is a practicing attorney. “But to get copies of motions filed last week in a general court-martial at Fort Lewis would take months if not years, while the Freedom of Information Act wheels ground along.”

In October, a military appeals court denied Fidell’s request to make public key documents from the case of one his clients, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his post in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban.

Transparency, Fidell said, is crucial in democratic societies to ensure the public has confidence in the administration of justice — regardless of whether it’s a civilian or military court.

“Keeping transparency at a minimum sends a signal that these cases are nobody’s business,” he said.

The case of Army Pvt. Jameson T. Hazelbower, convicted of sexually abusing children, illustrates that point.

Hazelbower went AWOL from his Army unit in Kentucky while he was a suspect in two separate investigations of sexual abuse of minors. The military’s warrant for his arrest called him a violent sexual predator and an escape risk.

When local police arrested Hazelbower last year in Winnebago, Illinois, he was in his car with a girl, barely 14, according to the Winnebago County sheriff’s office. Authorities quickly discovered he was also pursuing another teenage girl. Hazelbower pleaded guilty in the civilian system to aggravated criminal sexual abuse and indecent solicitation of a child, both felonies, and received 30 months of probation.

Illinois authorities then returned Hazelbower to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was convicted in May of child rape, possession of child pornography, sexual abuse of a child and other charges. For those crimes, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Six months later, the details of Hazelbower’s court-martial are being withheld from the public. That’s because even after a military judge or jury renders its verdict, the sentence must be approved by a senior military officer. During that period, no records from the trial are permitted to be released, said Valerie Florez, the freedom of information and privacy officer at Fort Campbell.

The withholding of Hazelbower’s trial records amounts to an embargo of information about a criminal case long after it has been adjudicated. And even then, the release of records is governed by a slow-moving review process.

Lawyers also struggle to get records. Russell Butler, a civilian attorney and executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, recalled a case in which he represented the victim of a crime committed by a service member. The military prosecutors and defense counsel objected to Butler receiving court orders, motions and pleadings. He got the material only after he convinced the judge there is no military exception to the First Amendment’s right of access to criminal court documents.

“The military’s practice of denying timely access to court-martial records is repugnant to the United States Constitution,” Butler said.


In the past, it has been the voices of victims that have changed the way the Defense Department investigates and prosecutes sex crimes.

Media reports triggered a Pentagon investigation that determined 83 women were sexually assaulted at a 1991 gathering of Navy aviators in Las Vegas. The lewd, booze-filled event would become known by a single word, Tailhook, and the ensuing outcry ended the careers of the seagoing service’s top two officials.

The latest uproar over sex crimes in the ranks was ignited by a 2012 documentary, “The Invisible War.” In the film, adult sexual assault victims contended in vivid terms that military leaders ignored the crimes and instead punished those who reported them.

For members of Congress from both political parties, the documentary hit hard. It identified the problem graphically, leading to sweeping alterations in military law and policy aimed at preventing sexual assaults.

But many lawmakers aren’t satisfied and are pushing for even more reform. In June, 50 senators voted for a bill that would have made a major change to the military justice system despite the Pentagon’s opposition. But the effort was short of the 60 votes required but this was enough to trigger doubts on Capitol Hill about the military’s commitment to stopping sex crimes.

In fact, the military’s focus has been on adult-on-adult crimes, not children, said retired Col. Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor and the president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“This has been under the radar,” Christensen said. “When DOD talks about sexual assault, it talks about people in uniform.”

Sexual assault is considered a chronically underreported crime. Victims often feel they won’t be believed, fear retaliation, or may not want their attacker punished.

Children are most often sexually abused by people they know or trust and that makes it difficult for them to tell another person what happened, said Howard Fradkin, a psychologist and former president of MaleSurvivor, a support group for men who were sexually abused as children.

A father sexually abusing a child might say, “If you tell, you know your daddy’s going to get fired from the military,” Fradkin said. “Whether or not that’s true, that’s all you have to say to keep them silent.”

A victim of Navy Petty Officer First Class Darren Yazzie kept her abuse “bottled up” for several years until an alert middle-school counselor noticed her sitting by herself at lunch time, visibly upset. The counselor took her to an office where she recounted how he “would crawl into bed and have sex with her,” according to the NCIS investigative report on Yazzie. His name was blacked out of the report released by NCIS, but the AP was able to identify him by information in the document that matched his case.

She wrote messages on notebook paper and her bedroom wall. “I (expletive) Hate you,” read one. “Die …,” read another, with the name redacted.

After the Navy began investigating, Yazzie went AWOL from the ship he was assigned to in San Diego, the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton. He was arrested in Arizona and returned to the Navy for trial. Yazzie was convicted in January of rape of a child and sentenced to 17 years. There was no pretrial agreement.

A leading critic of the Pentagon’s treatment of sexual assault, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called the AP’s findings about the number of child victims alarming and disturbing.

“There are just huge red flags and huge concerns about where justice is not being done,” Gillibrand said. “This is just the latest example of DOD’s lack of transparency on the issue of sexual assault.”

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Julie Watson in San Diego, and researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.

Pentagon announces plan to lift ban against transgender servicemembers

The Pentagon’s current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on July 13, ordering a six-month study aimed at lifting the ban.

Carter said he is creating a working group that will review the policies and determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military’s ability to be ready for battle. But he said the group will begin with the presumption that transgender people should be able to serve openly “without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”

The plan, which was first reported by The Associated Press, gives the services time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.

“The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter said in a statement released on July 13. “At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they’re able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite.”

Carter asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to lead the working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue, including the costs, and determine whether it would create any insurmountable problems that could derail the plan. The group would also develop uniform guidelines.

Some of the key issues involved in the repeal of the ban include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs of surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition.

Officials said the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together. The military has dealt with many similar questions as it integrated the ranks by race, gender and sexual orientation.

“Obviously this isn’t finished, but Secretary Carter’s clear statement of intent means that transgender service members should and will be treated with the same dignity as other service members,” said Allyson Robinson, Army veteran and policy director for an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military personnel called Service Members, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

Several Congress members, including Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed support for Carter’s decision.

The move follows several weeks of high-level meetings in the Pentagon among military chiefs, secretaries and Defense Department leaders, including one Monday involving Carter and the chiefs of the various services.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, said, “Trans people are willing and able to serve their country, and should be able to do so while remaining true to who they are. The Pentagon announcement confirms what we have known for a long time: outdated military regulations, which automatically label trans service members as medically unfit for duty, have no basis in reality. Over the past year, service branches have allowed some individuals to serve openly without risking immediate separation, but the regulations on the books keep those service members and their commanders in a constant state of administrative limbo. Everyone has been waiting for senior officials to provide clear leadership on this issue.  It sounds like that leadership is coming – and not a moment too soon.”

“We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “The time for ending the military’s ban on transgender service is long overdue, and we are confident that the Pentagon’s review of this discriminatory policy will find what many have come to know is true: Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member’s. Our military and our country will be stronger when this archaic policy is finally discarded and we look forward to that day.”

There are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense, the largest employer of transgender people in America. 

American Medical Association: No rationale to exclude transgender people from military

The nation’s largest physicians group declared in June that there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from U.S. military service.

The policy adopted by the American Medical Association during its annual meeting also affirmed the organization’s position that transgender servicemembers should receive care according to the same medical standards that apply to all other military personnel.

The policy is intended to help modify the federal regulations that bar transgender individuals from the military and prohibit providing medically necessary care as determined by a doctor. The estimated 15,500 transgender individuals who serve in the U.S. military face being discharged if outted. Unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the statutory ban that barred LGB servicemembers from serving openly, the ban on transgender military service is regulatory and could be eliminated by the Department of Defense, without congressional action.

“The new AMA policy adds to a growing public consensus, including former public health and military officers, which questions the military’s policies toward transgender individuals, and the negative impact these policies have on the health of transgender servicemembers,” stated AMA president Robert M. Wah.

The Human Rights Campaign has repeatedly called for the DOD to end the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military, which is the largest employer of transgender people in the United States.

HRC also has urged reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which fails to provide a full range of medically necessary care to transgender veterans.

Before the AMA vote, four former U.S. Surgeons General issued a statement of support for the policy. Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Regina Benjamin and Kenneth Moritsugu said, “We agree with the proposed American Medical Association resolution that there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender service members should, as is the case with all personnel, receive the medical care that they need.”

Members of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, a national group, also encouraged support and applauded the AMA vote.

During its meeting, the AMA also approved:

• A policy to help human trafficking victims. About 12.3 million adults and children are enslaved in human trafficking around the world at any given time, according to the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. To help address this growing epidemic, the AMA adopted a policy to ensure physicians are trained to report suspected cases of trafficking to authorities while ensuring victims have the medical, legal and social resources they need.

“We must do everything we can to help get victims of human trafficking to safety,” said AMA board member William E. Kobler. “Since we know that victims of human trafficking rarely seek help out of fear of their captors or law enforcement, we believe that the health care setting is an ideal way to engage with suspected victims and get them the help and resources they so desperately need.”

• A policy aimed at strengthening prescription drug-monitoring programs. In the midst of what the AMA called a national opioid misuse epidemic, the organization bolstered its support for drug-monitoring programs.

The policy encourages the use of programs that protect patient privacy, contain relevant and reliable clinical data, are integrated into a care team’s workflow and provide actionable information. It also calls on state governments to modernize and fully fund the programs.

“We must also continue efforts to increase access to the life-saving medicine naloxone, ensure that patients in pain and patients with substance use disorders receive the coordinated care they need for as long as they need it and to reduce the stigma associated with being treated for pain or having a substance use disorder,” said AMA board secretary Patrice A. Harris.

Defense secretary says climate change creates challenges for military

Rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will pose major challenges for America’s military, including more and worse natural disasters and the threat that food and water shortages could fuel disputes and instability around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier this week.

Addressing a conference of military leaders as the Pentagon released a new report on the issue, Hagel said, “Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”

U.S. military officials have long warned that changes in climate patterns, resulting in increased severe weather events and coastal flooding, will have a broad and costly impact on the Defense Department’s ability to protect the nation and respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the United States and around the globe.

The new report — described as a Pentagon roadmap — identifies four things that it says will affect the U.S. military: rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. It calls on the department and the military services to identify more specific concerns, including possible effects on the more than 7,000 bases and facilities, and to start putting plans in place to deal with them.

“Climate change is a `threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today — from infectious disease to armed insurgencies — and to produce new challenges in the future,” Hagel said. He spoke during the opening session of the conference, which was attended by defense ministers and military chiefs of more than 30 countries from the Americas, Spain and Portugal.

Changing climate trends could spur more natural disasters, demanding more military support, he said. “Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains and critical equipment.”

More broadly, the report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food, water and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already-unstable countries.

The report comes amid an ongoing debate within the administration and Congress over the actual extent and existence of global warming and climate change. But Hagel, who is on a six-day, three-country trip to South America, seemed to have little question about the impending changes.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” he told the ministers at this mountain resort in the Andes near the southern tip of Peru.

“We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere,” he said.

For the U.S., rising sea levels could eventually put vast stretches of Navy docks and other military installations under water, in places like Norfolk, Virginia, Honolulu and other coastal locations worldwide.

The Pentagon has been working for years to reduce the military’s heavy footprint on the earth by using alternative fuels and conducting maintenance aimed at managing water use and encroachment on natural resources.

But, according to a federal greenhouse gas inventory, the department was responsible for 71 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint in 2010, producing 95.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. That put the military’s footprint at about the same size as that of the entire country of Chile.

The greenhouse gas report said that more than 60 percent of the Pentagon’s carbon footprint cannot be reduced easily.

In its new report, the Pentagon said it has to better define how climate change could affect military operations, training, testing and readiness.

The issue is a deep concern to many South and Central American nations that have long stretches of coastline. Gen. John Kelly, the top U.S. military commander in South America, was with Hagel at the conference.

Caribbean island countries in particular worry about rising sea levels and more violent hurricanes, he said, adding that “the fact that they’re all here talking about how important this is will make a difference.”

One key national security issue is the Arctic, where melting ice caps are opening up sea lanes, spurring competition for the lucrative oil and gas deposits and increasing the use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit.

“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” Hagel said during his stop in Chile. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources.”

Last November, at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hagel said the U.S. would assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, even as Russia, China and other countries stake their own claims in the largely untapped region. Increased use of the Arctic will require the U.S. to fill gaps in satellite and communications coverage, add deep-water ports and buy more ships that can withstand frigid waters.

In addition to those costs, the U.S. will have to address other changes in its military installations. Officials don’t yet have cost estimates.

Pentagon documents surge in reports of sexual assaults

Reports by members of the military of sexual assaults jumped by an unprecedented 50 percent last year, in what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared a “clear threat” to both male and female servicemembers’ lives and well-being.

The latest numbers reflected an aggressive campaign by the Pentagon to persuade victims to come forward, but Hagel and others said they need to do more to get men to report assaults — a challenge in a military culture that values strength. Hagel said an estimated half of sexual-assault victims in the military are men, yet only 14 percent of reported assaults involve male victims.

Hagel told a news conference he has ordered Pentagon officials to increase their efforts to get male victims to report sexual abuse and also has asked the military services to review their alcohol sales and policies. In as many as two-thirds of reported sexual assault cases, alcohol is involved.

“We have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault does not occur because a victim is weak, but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law,” Hagel said.

Officials said they believe the number of male victims is greatly under-reported because of anonymous surveys conducted among military members. A 2012 survey found that about 26,000 servicemembers said they were victims of some type of unwanted sexual contact or assault. A key finding in that survey was that, in sheer numbers, more men than women said they had been assaulted.

About 6.8 percent of women surveyed said they were assaulted and 1.2 percent of the men. But there are vastly more men in the military; by the raw numbers, a bit more than 12,000 women said they were assaulted, compared with nearly 14,000 men.

Defense officials said that male victims often worry that complaining will make people think they are weak and trigger questions about their sexual orientation. In most cases, however, sexual orientation has nothing to do with the assault and it’s more an issue of power or abuse.

“There is still a misperception that this is a women’s issue and women’s crime,” said Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office. “It’s disheartening that we have such a differential between the genders and how they are choosing to report.”

The military, Galbreath said, needs to get the message out.

“It’s not the damsel in distress; it’s your fellow service member that might need you to step in,” he said, adding that troops need to treat such a request for help like any other need for aid, just like on the battlefield.

While the number of reported assaults shot up sharply in 2013, defense officials said that based on survey data and other information, they believe the increase was largely due to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward. Under the military’s definition, a sexual assault can be anything from unwanted sexual contact, such as inappropriate touching or grabbing, to sodomy and rape.

Separately on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was going to investigative 55 colleges and universities for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations by their students.

As for the military, Hagel said he was ordering six initiatives, including the review of alcohol sales and policies. He says that review must address the risks of alcohol being used as a weapon by predators who might ply a victim with drinks before attacking.

“Sexual assault is a clear threat to the lives and the well-being of the women and men who serve our country in uniform. It destroys the bonds of trust and confidence that lie at the heart of our armed forces,” said Hagel.

The plans call for the military services to step up efforts to encourage troops to intervene in assault situations and work with military bases and local communities to better train bar workers and promote more responsible alcohol sales.

Overall, there were 5,061 reports of sexual abuse filed in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared with 3,374 in 2012, for a 50 percent increase. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victims joined the military, up from just 4 percent in 2012.

Over the past two years, the military services have tried to increase awareness. Phone numbers and contact information for sexual assault prevention officers are plastered across military bases, including inside the doors of bathroom stalls. And top military officers have traveled to bases around the world speaking out on the issue.

Officials said prosecutions also have increased. Galbreath said the military was able to take some action against 73 percent of accused people who were subject to the military justice system. In 2012 it was 66 percent. Some cases involved alleged assailants who were not in the military so were not subject to commander’s actions or military courts.

Sexual assault has been a front-burner issue for the Pentagon, Congress and the White House over the past year, triggering Capitol Hill hearings and persistent questions about how effectively the military was preventing and prosecuting assaults and how well it was treating the victims. Fueling outrage have been high-profile assault cases and arrests, including incidents involving senior commanders, sexual assault prevention officers and military trainers.

At the same time, the military has long struggled to get victims to report sexual assault in a stern military culture that emphasizes rank, loyalty and toughness. Some victims have complained they were afraid to report assaults to ranking officers for fear of retribution, or said that their initial complaints were rebuffed or ignored.

President urged to lift ban on transgender troops

The United States should join the dozen other nations that allow transgender people to serve in the armed forces, a commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general said in a report released on March 13 that concludes there is no medical reason for the decades-old ban and calls on President Barack Obama to lift it.

The five-member panel, convened by a think tank at San Francisco State University, said U.S. Department of Defense regulations designed to keep transgender people out of the military are based on outdated beliefs that require thousands of current service members either to leave the service or to forego the medical procedures and other changes that could align their bodies and gender identities.

“We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components,” said the commission led by Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served as surgeon general during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, a former chief health and safety director for the Coast Guard.

The White House referred questions to the Department of Defense.

“At this time there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a defense department spokesman.

The report says that while scholars have yet to find government documents explaining the basis for the ban, which has existed in medical fitness standards and conduct codes since the 1960s, it appears rooted in part in the psychiatric establishment’s long-held consensus, since revised, that people who identity with a gender different from the one assigned at birth suffer from a mental disorder.

The ban also was apparently based on the assumption that providing hormone treatment and surgeries would be too difficult, disruptive and expensive. But the commission rejected those notions as inconsistent with modern medical practice and the scope of health care services routinely provided to non-transgender military personnel.

“I hope their takeaway will be we should evaluate every one of our people on the basis of their ability and what they can do, and if they have a condition we can treat we would treat it like we would treat anyone else,” Elders said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The panel’s work was commissioned by the Palm Center, a think tank based at San Francisco State that is funded in part by a $1.3 million grant from Jennifer Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and former Army lieutenant colonel who came out as transgender last year.

At least a dozen nations, including Australia, Canada, England and Israel, allow transgender military personnel. Transgender rights advocates have been lobbying the Pentagon to revisit the blanket ban in the U.S. since Congress in 2010 repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly serving in the military.

The commission argued that facilitating gender transitions “would place almost no burden on the military,” adding that a relatively small number of active and reserve service members would elect to undergo transition-related surgeries and that only a fraction might suffer complications that would prevent them from serving. It estimated that 230 transgender people a year would seek such surgery at an average cost of about $30,000.

Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz, a former Army commander and West Point professor on the commission, said he thinks allowing transgender people to serve openly would reduce assaults and suicides while enhancing national security. Lawyers for Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks, presented evidence that stress over having to keep her gender identity secret contributed to an irrational belief that she could end the war in Iraq and by leaking the information.

“When you closet someone, you create a security risk, and we don’t need another Chelsea Manning,” Kolditz said. “If I were a commander, I certainly wouldn’t want people in my unit in a position to be blackmailed.”

The commission recommends the president issue an executive order instructing the Department of Defense to amend its regulations so transgender people are no longer automatically barred. The Pentagon then would need to develop rules for assigning service members who are transitioning, said Palm Center executive director Aaron Belkin.

The Williams Institute estimates that the U.S. currently has about 15,500 transgender military personnel, nearly all serving under their birth genders and not transitioning in an appearance-altering way.

Coast Guard reduces use of live animal training

The U.S. Coast Guard won’t use as many live animals for its combat medical training after an animal rights group showed a goat’s legs being removed with tree trimmers.

The agency said the video led to a review of its policies and the Coast Guard came to the decision that it could reduce by half the number of animals it uses.

The Coast Guard said it can do that by only requiring personnel deploying in support of the Defense Department to train with animals.

In 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals obtained a video of the live tissue training that showed the goats as well as other traumas. The goats were intentionally injured so the students could treat injuries like those they might see while in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf, according to the Coast Guard. The training was held in Virginia Beach for Coast Guardsmen preparing to deploy to Iraq.

PETA, in a letter to the Homeland Security Department, said “nothing about the training session depicted in the video even gives the illusion of a battlefield casualty situation.” 

A Coast Guard investigation released in May said the goats were subjected to traumas that simulated an improvised explosive device attack or enemy fire fight. Instructors inflicted injuries with a shotgun, pistol, ax and a scalpel.

The Coast Guard investigation found that its personnel did nothing wrong, but a contractor providing instruction was cited by the Agriculture Department for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The investigation said there were not enough instructors available to provide additional anesthesia to the goats at the same time. The goats were euthanized at the end of the training.

While the Coast Guard in its final report defended its practice of using the animals, it said “the controversial nature” of live tissue training necessitated that it closely scrutinize its policies.

“The Coast Guard will continue to refine, reduce, and, when appropriate, replace the use of live animals in medical training,” Carlos Diaz, a Washington-based Coast Guard spokesman, said in an email to The Associated Press. “We look forward to insights and input from other organizations as we continue to look for these opportunities.”

PETA welcomed the news, although it said there’s more that can still be done.

“The Coast Guard has taken a laudable first step by slashing in half the number of live animals who will be shot, stabbed, and mutilated in its training drills,” PETA Director of Laboratory Investigations Justin Goodman said in a written statement. “We continue to urge the Coast Guard to join the more than 80 percent of our NATO allies that have completely replaced their use of animals in medical training with superior simulation technology.”

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