Lack of accountability and oversight has become a significant problem in the military

Lack of accountability and oversight has become a significant problem in the military
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All of us have a responsibility to our service members. We have a responsibility to their families and friends. And we have a responsibility to the American public. No one serving on active duty, the Reserves, National Guard and as veterans should feel trapped and isolated in any given situation leading to suicide being their only remedy. 

Day-after-day we are informed of active duty service members and Veterans taking their own lives. Although we suspect mental health disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are only a couple reasons linked to suicide. Moreover,  our government continues to withhold information that fails to provide transparent and accurate data so we can better determine root causes. 

A VA national task force will not effectively address the suicide crisis. A team of 12 to 15 professionals sitting at a table does not speak for the millions of people across the nation. Requesting information from the public is a good first step, but if you didn’t meet the response deadline of Aug. 5, 2019, you are out of luck. 

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The conversations need to continue after several meetings and not come to a halt after preparing a report for Congress and the executive office of the president. The task force should provide the American public with agendas and meeting minutes. Nothing should be a secret, especially with the crisis we have. Closing the doors to the American public is closing the doors to the service members and Veterans who take their lives. The doors need to be open and stay open.

Sending grants to local communities from VA will not address our suicide problem. Past history reveals money sent from the federal government does not get spent on the reasons for which being sent. When states have financial stress in areas of education, Medicaid and Medicare, infrastructure, why should we trust they take mental health funds and do the right thing? If grants are sent, every penny needs to be accounted for and reports need to be generated with successes and failures. 

For those of us who track individuals who have died by suicide, we are looking at current trends reaching the highest rates ever recorded. One of the reasons this continues to occur is the Feres Doctrine. The doctrine prevents service members and military families from suing the federal government for negligence. 

As we all know, our country is built on lessons learned from civil lawsuits. This is a form of checks and balances in our system holding key players accountable for their actions. Could this be one answer to promoting change? 

Lack of accountability and oversight has become a significant problem in the military, hence the reason there is no incentive to change. Congress needs to pass the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019

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When looking at military leadership, they are often times not held accountable for their poor decisions. Their decision-making processes cannot be questioned by lower ranked service members. If questioned, this can result in receiving a document in the form of a non-judicial punishment. This is one of the few documents a service member does not want in their military file, which can have an effect on future promotions and mental health. Many service members want to do right and commit to the military culture so they can make a better life for themselves and their families. 

Ultimately, they want to serve our nation and protect our nation. However, creating a consistent culture of bullying and negligence will create additional wounds. Holding those accountable for their actions is one step toward allowing others to speak out about their experiences and get help when and where they need most. 

Wrongdoing is disclosed to the public but not enough. Poor image is a significant threat to how we provide effective programs and services. If those who lead our military and government agencies do not make positive impacts, this image will never be reversed. 

We need leaders who will stand up to the challenge with integrity and all other military values they were sworn in to uphold. The legacy of military leadership will continue to determine the future of leading by example, or delivering status quo. The time is now to only promote military leadership for their outstanding leadership qualities and track records. 

Sending service members and Veterans who ask for help to the appropriate professionals doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Common themes that have been addressed over the years include but are not limited to addressing mental health concerns with leadership prior to deployment, but the concerns are not being addressed enough

No mission can be accomplished if our service members are not focused and feel psychologically disconnected. Fearing retaliation or a “red flag” in the service members file is a commonly discussed stigma problem we face. If we cannot solve the stigma problem, we will find ourselves here again in 2030 having the same discussions. 

We need to accept everyone who wants to help and get involved with the aim to prevent suicides. Sending the message that all lives matter is an important conversation starter when discussing mental health. Everyone across the entire spectrum needs to listen to all service members when they express mental health concerns. 

Sending them to the appropriate professionals immediately is the difference between resolving problems and allowing them to worsen. We need to fully embrace the stigma problem, and not reinforce. Success has the strong potential to follow. 

Andrew Vernon was a career employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for seven years, and is a Veteran of the US Army. Vernon is Principal for Veteran and Military Affairs at Andrew Vernon & Associates. He holds a master’s degree in Education from the University of Maine, and a master’s degree in health administration from the Columbia University Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health. You can find him on Twitter: @VernonAndrewJ.

Jennifer Norris holds a MA in public policy from the Muskie School of Public Service. She served in the USAF as a satellite communications technician for Combat Communication Squadrons and was medically retired in 2010. Follow her on Twitter: @jsn2007.