As politicians in Washington wring their hands over the Veterans Affairs scandal, VICE News travels to Portland, Oregon, to see what it’s all really about. We meet Curtis Shanley, a former Marine Corps machine-gunner, who has spent the past five years wading through red tape to get medical attention for a crippling injury he suffered while serving his country in Iraq.
Is the Military About to Allow Transgender Soldiers?
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel caused a bit of a stir over the weekend when he said that the US military’s ban on transgender soldiers “continually should be reviewed" during an appearance on ABC’s The Week. In addition to reminding everyone that Sunday talk shows aren’t just several hours of teeth gnashing and inhuman wailing, Hagel raised a few eyebrows among LGBT advocacy organizations, as his remarks come in the wake of a March report issued by the Palm Center that estimated some 15,000 transgender people are surreptitiously serving in the armed forces right now in addition to 130,000 or so trans veterans in the population at large.
But does Hagel’s vague promise to take another look at the issue—coupled with his forthright declaration that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it”—mean the Pentagon is actually going to change its policies? One encouraging sign came Wednesday when military officials announced they were considering a request from Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence officer charged with leaking troves of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, to be transferred to a civilian prison for gender treatment therapy. Indeed, the latest report suggests Hagel has already approved the request and it’s just a question of working out the logistics. More broadly, transgender advocates and military observers I spoke to are actually quite optimistic about the prospects for reform, even if the timeline remains cloudy at best.
Why Won’t the US Government Let Veterans Smoke Medical Marijuana?
We Americans love to send our armed forces, often recruited from black and Hispanic neighborhoods devoid of real economic opportunity, to fight in exotic foreign conflicts while we relax at home and consume things, unconcerned about the impact all that combat has on those citizens’ lives. So it should come as little surprise that the House of Representatives last Wednesday rejected an amendment to the annual bill funding veterans’ health care that would have permitted military doctors in states with medical marijuana already on the books to discuss pot treatment options with their patients.
The vote was tantalizingly close, however, with the amendment failing 222–195. In fact, 22 Republicans crossed over to join the majority of Democrats in favor of the proposal, which, according to medical studies, could help some of the millions of vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bipartisan tide of momentum for drug legalization, it seems, is reaching the highest levels of the federal government—and even threatening to rope in our sacred troops, whom we are apparently fine with risking life and limb in the desert so long as they never, ever get high.
What happens when the world’s biggest military powers are private companies available for hire? If the rise of for-profit mercenaries is any indication, we’ll find out soon enough.
Here’s how President Obama was greeted in the Philippines.
Schools have long been used as military recruitment centers—as training grounds, in fact, with “hundreds of thousands of secondary students” undergoing military instruction on high school campuses well before they can legally consent to enlist.
With the help of schools across the country, the US military is exploiting a loophole in the law to gather personal information on millions of Americans.
“I wouldn’t kill another person myself—and to pay someone else to kill people in my name with my tax dollars, it’s essentially the same thing,” said David Hartsough, a Quaker peace activist in his 70s. “I don’t have to look at the blood, but the blood is on my hands.”
—Don’t listen to Lil B. Embrace war tax resistance. Don’t pay your taxes.
Death’s Messenger: One Soldier’s Job Delivering the Worst News Imaginable
“There’s still a war going on,” Captain Richard Siemion began. “There are still people dying—not as many as before—but it’s still happening. And when it does, the Army sends somebody like me to break the news.”
Captain Siemion was recently honorably discharged but was one of several casualty notification officers serving in upstate New York. Whenever a soldier’s death was reported, the CNO on duty would have four hours to track down the deceased’s family and deliver some of the worst news they would ever hear.
CNOs have been the focus of some interest over the last decade of American war. In 2006, the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News published a Pulitzer Prize–winning series about the Marines tasked with the same job as Captain Siemion, and in 2009 Woody Harrelson starred in the independent film The Messenger. He played a CNO.
I sat down with the 31-year-old Siemion to talk about his first-hand experience telling families of active-service soldiers that their loved one have died in action.
VICE: Did you volunteer for the job?
Captain Siemon: We call it being voluntold. I had just gotten back from my first tour in Afghanistan when my Battalion Commander sent me to the training course.
What did you learn there?
You learn that there’s no right way to tell someone that their loved one is not returning from war, but there are a lot of wrong ways to do it. If you look at history, the way they used to tell families about a death: You had telegrams, you had taxi drivers paid to ring doorbells, you had word of mouth. Through trial and error, the United States Army got it as close to right as they can. I was always the kind of leader who didn’t go 100 percent by the book, but in this case, I went right by the book, because there is a reason why they have it the way they do. Not much room for creativity.
What do you think they got right?
One thing is the idea that no job is more important than this job. So, if you’re in the middle of an important brief with a Colonel and you get called to give a notification, you say, “Gotta go.” Another thing is that you go in person. It shows the importance. Obviously you’re never going to see that individual again, or be their best friend, but if my brother died, I’d rather have it straight—face-to-face.