Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The primary military impulse is to hide problems: Concussions in the military academies

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The NY Times has an interesting story about how common concussions are as a result of the requirement that first-year students at the military academies take boxing. It’s not surprising that boxing would produce concussions, and it’s only in recent decades that we’ve learned about how much long-term damage concussions, particularly repeated concussions, can cause.From the story:

Twenty years ago, the Air Force announced plans to end mandatory boxing because of mounting pressure from the medical community. But boxing continues. The Air Force did not respond to questions, or make any staff members available for interviews.

So the story is interesting as another instance of something known to be a problem that requires fixing or replacement. (Another recent story told how high schools are starting to drop their football programs in favor of soccer, sometimes simply because the number of studies willing to accept the risk of concussions and injuries has dropped too low to field a team.)

The most interesting aspect of the story is how the military immediately started stalling and developing ways to cover up or minimize the problem—and that’s a story in itself, this one by Dave Philipps in the NY Times:

Two top Army generals recently discussed trying to kill an article in The New York Times on concussions at West Point by withholding information so the Army could encourage competing news organizations to publish a more favorable story, according to an Army document.

The generals’ conversation involved a Freedom of Information Act request that The Times made in June for data on concussions resulting from mandatory boxing classes at the United States Military Academy. The Times also requested similar data from the Air Force Academy in June, and from the Naval Academy this month.

During a Sept. 16 meeting at the Pentagon, the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, recommended to the superintendent at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., that the Army delay responding to The Times’s request, according to the document. General Horoho then suggested trying to get The Wall Street Journal or USA Today to publish an article about a more favorable Army study on concussions.

According to the document, described by Army officials as an executive summary of the meeting, the public affairs staff at West Point and the surgeon general’s office were instructed to promote that study, by a West Point sports medicine doctor, Col. Steven Svoboda, to the other publications. . .

Continue reading.

The report contains stunning examples of bad faith by the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho:

. . . Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates transparency in government, called the details of the meeting as described in the document “disturbing.”

“To think that high-level officials at the U.S. Army and West Point would intentionally delay responding to a FOIA request in order to place a more favorable story in another outlet,” he said in an email. “Every level of the U.S. government should follow the spirit of the law and comply with FOIA, not use it as an opportunity for media manipulation.”

In the Sept. 16 meeting, according to the summary, General Horoho cited having successfully undermined the news media in the past, referring to how she manipulated coverage of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Col., last year.

“We were able to do something similar with the 4th ID when The Colorado Springs Gazette attacked them with treatment of wounded warriors last year — killed any scrutiny from the media and killed their story,” the document summarizes General Horoho as saying.

The media coverage that the document says the Army surgeon general “killed” at The Gazette focused on an investigation into mistreatment of soldiers by psychologists at the Army hospital at Fort Carson in 2014, according to The Gazette’s military reporter, Tom Roeder. The Gazette waited six months to receive a copy of the Army Medical Command’s completed investigation, Mr. Roeder said in an email.

About a week before the investigation was released to The Gazette, General Horoho held a “media round table” inviting competing military reporters to the Pentagon to learn about the investigation. The event resulted in several stories that had her playing down the mistreatment of soldiers with mental health issues.

The Gazette article, which came out 10 days later, found that “some workers in the hospital’s behavioral health department were demeaning, patronizing, foul-mouthed” and that they felt pressured by commanders to push mentally ill soldiers out of the Army.

The briefing summary also quoted General Horoho as saying that she felt blindsided by coverage of a pillow fight at West Point, first reported by The Times, that caused 24 concussions — more this quarter than boxing or football.

“Next time when cadets are injured and it is sensationalized, please let me know ahead of time,” she is summarized as saying. “I can help shape the reaction from my position as surgeon general. I actually learned about this incident from the news.”

Lt. Gen. Horoho should be encouraged to leave the Army, or at least be removed from the position of surgeon general. Her priorities are clearly not to protect the health of service members but rather to protect the Army’s image, and to do that regardless of ethical considerations. She apparently thinks her primary responsibility is not medical but public relations.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2015 at 10:27 am

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