Updated: July 4, 2014 10:27AM
Looking back on his childhood and early adult life, Vietnam War veteran Ronald Baltierra believes he had an undiagnosed hyperactivity disorder.
“I’ve been told I was a good soldier but I couldn’t sit still,” Baltierra, who received a bronze star for valor, says. “In Vietnam they didn’t care if you were hyper.”
These days hyperactivity disorders are treated with prescription medications, and such treatment can bar you from enlisting in the military.
Obesity, some tattoos and body piercings also can keep you out. The Department of Defense estimates that a whopping 71 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds would fail to meet enlistment standards, as reported in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.
Teens and 20-somethings eager to sign up need to consider all that, but they should think harder about this: Will the military meet their needs down the line?
Veterans’ access to medical care has been terrible in some places. We are gaining a better understanding about backlogged appointments and the lengths administrators went to hide the backlogs in the Veterans Affairs scandal that has rocked the military. Five senior VA officials have left their posts since the misconduct gained national attention in May.
The military’s quality of medical care for veterans has been regarded as top-notch, but that doesn’t appear to be true for active military members treated at some military hospitals in the U.S.
A New York Times investigation found glaring issues in maternity and surgical cases for active service members, concluding that babies born in military hospitals are twice as likely as babies born in civilian hospitals to be injured during delivery. Citing research conducted for the Pentagon, the newspaper reported that mothers in military hospitals were more likely to hemorrhage.
Additionally, surgical patients suffered complications because of avoidable errors; and efforts to improve care were bogged down by bureaucracy.
I asked Baltierra, who served on a mayor’s advisory council on veterans for 10 years, whether these scandals would discourage young men and women from enlisting. The scandals have to be a recruiter’s nightmare from a public relations standpoint, I figured.
As long as jobs are tough to come by in the civilian world, the military is an attractive option, he said.
“They’re young and they need to work,” he said of the military’s targeted demographic. “What do they want to do when there are no jobs? They go into the military.
“When they get out they realize the government is not helping.”
Nowadays the armed forces can be pickier about whom they accept, Baltierra pointed out. “The Obama administration is cutting back on the military,” he said. “They don’t want to grow the military. It’s hard for anyone to get in the military.”
An Army spokeswoman said there is no link between its tougher standards, which include making some tattoos a no-no, and the drawdown.
It’s about displaying the highest level of professionalism, she said.
That’s not asking too much. The military is more flexible with standards during times of war. It makes sense to go back to accepting the most mentally and physically fit men and women.
But those who want to sign up for it need to take another look and consider that many of our current veterans and active military members deserve better than what they’re getting.