A certain level of secrecy is expected when dealing with military affairs. The secrets held by military officials could, if disclosed, put American service members’ lives at risk and deal significant blows to the national security of the United States.
However, there are limits to the need for such secrecy. At some point, the walls must come down and the truth must be exposed.
As Memorial Day came and went, a day that we honor those service members who fought and died on the battlefield, we reflected on a story published in an April edition of the New York Times.
When civilian doctors commit acts of malpractice, the truth can be difficult to uncover. However, over time and through judicious use of legal techniques and procedural elements, a medical professional’s grave error which resulted in the death or injury of their patient can be discovered.
Military doctors, however, can generally be assumed to be operating with the full weight and power of the modern military complex behind them. Such was the case with T.J. Moore, a 19-year old Air Force recruit undergoing basic training in San Antonio, Texas.
When Mr. Moore collapsed and died after a 1.5 mile training run, independent doctors would later review his records and determine that information was overlooked that could have saved his life. Among those pieces of information was a test result that specifically laid out the fact that Mr. Moore had a genetic condition in which strenuous physical exertion could, in fact, lead to sudden death.
Neither Mr. Moore nor anyone in his command structure was informed of this condition and Mr. Moore would endure this 1.5 mile test run not once but twice. Having failed it the first time, he would try again days later. That second attempt would ultimately lead to his death as he crossed the finish line.
After months of inquiries, his mother would receive a 15-page report detailing how all proper protocols had been followed and that the Air Force was in no way, shape, or form, responsible for the death of her son.
Interviews and records show that this problem is pervasive throughout the entirety of the military medical system. It has only been less than two years since service members were even allowed to file formal complaints about the quality of care they had been given in military medical facilities. And, even with that ability, most requests for information are met with denials, refusals to answer, or flat-out untruths. Some service members even resort to FOIA requests, or requests for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act, in order to learn the un-edited details of their own personal medical care.
As we reflect on and remember the sacrifices made by American servicemen and women on battlefields around the globe, let us also take a moment and consider the plight of those that are still living, yet unable to get the kind of care they need from the system to which they have entrusted their faith and their lives.
The decision to enlist in the Armed Forces is not a small one to make nor is it one that is taken lightly. It is a commitment to go, without question, into a hostile land and be shot at as well as to shoot back. Why then do we find it so difficult to provide these men and women with the same quality of care as those they are sworn to protect and defend? And, when things go wrong with that care, why are they left without even the most basic forms of recourse?