Testimony from MD hearing on bill to return Guard units to control of state

March 10, 2010
Jean Athey

On March 8, 2010, the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee held a public hearing on HB 1037, a bill that states, "If an authorization for use of military force has by its terms expired or is no longer valid authority for federal control over units of the national guard, and there is otherwise no action underway for the prompt return of the units to state control, the governor shall request the return of the units to the control of the state." More information about HB 1037 here.

Below is testimony in support of HB1037 by some of those who attended the hearing.

 

Ellen E Barfield
Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter of Veterans for Peace, Baltimore, MD
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

My name is Ellen Barfield. I am a veteran of the US Army and the co-founder and director of the Baltimore Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Baltimore VFP strongly supports HB 1037.

I am concerned about the personal costs our National Guard members face when they are called up over and over again to serve in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq and the injustices they face as veterans when they return.

PA Governor Ed Rendell: "Our troops are tired and worn out. [With respect to the] Pennsylvania National Guard, most of our guards have been to either Iraq [or] Afghanistan, over 85 percent, and many of them have gone three or four times and they're wasted."

When young men and women join the National Guard, the enlistment contract is for one weekend a month and two weeks annual training each year, and in case of national emergency they may be called to augment the regular army. In the last nine years the Guard has been used instead as the regular army; in some cases, members have been called to active duty to serve for as long as 12 to 15 months and for as many as three to five deployments.(1)

Commenting in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes on the use of the National Guard, Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey said, "On a given day, the active [Army] is probably 540,000, but we’ll have more than 700,000 in our ranks on active duty, which tells me that the National Guard and Reserve, instead of being an emergency force, has become a steady-state active-duty part of the country’s warfighting capabilities."(2)

Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has said, "Our troops are tired and worn out. [With respect to the] Pennsylvania National Guard, most of our guards have been to either Iraq [or] Afghanistan, over 85 percent, and many of them have gone three or four times and they're wasted."(3)

Many problems arise after this dangerous and extended service. Federal law requires that Guard members' jobs be held for them, but repeated deployments and the economy make it very difficult for many businesses to hold the same positions for returning Guards, as documented by a Veterans for America study on the Pennsylvania National Guard,(4) findings that very likely apply to the Maryland Guard, also.

Guard members are twice as likely to have a veterans’ disability claim denied as other veterans of the same operations, even though they are only half as likely to file claims in the first place.

As Veterans, National Guard members receive inferior health benefits. The Veterans Administration is severely underfunded and rations care by eligibility based on active time served. For National Guard members, this is solely time spent in combat, unlike Regular Army time which includes all time enlisted, even at the home base in the US. So, Guard Veterans are always at the end of the line for health benefits. Also, Guard members are twice as likely to have a veterans’ disability claim denied as other veterans of the same operations, even though they are only half as likely to file claims in the first place.(5) It is unclear why this is so.

National Guard members, who live in the community rather than on base, have little access to support services. The stresses of being repeatedly deployed with very little warning, possible job loss, and family separation all take a toll on family life. One in five Maryland Guard members separates or divorces within a year of return to civilian life.(6)

One in five Maryland Guard members separates or divorces within a year of return to civilian life.

Other benefits are difficult for National Guard members to access, also. For example, members of the Minnesota and Iowa National Guards were denied education benefits because they served too few days in Iraq, just under the 730 days active duty required to qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill.(7) They served just as long as their active duty colleagues -- 22 consecutive months, the longest of any U.S. unit in Iraq – but they were demobilized just before having served the 730 days.

In short, our National Guard has been severely overused for purposes they were not intended to address, and they continue to be abused with lesser services and benefits.

Today’s bill is one very small step towards addressing these inequities. I urge you to pass this bill.

(1) Command Sergeant Major Julio Rodriguez, US Army Reserve Retired, testimony in the Maryland Senate, March 4, 2009.
(2) John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes, Mideast Edition, General: National Guard is key in Afghanistan, June 23, 2009
(3) Tomgram: William Astore, “Grinding Down the U.S. Army,” December 15, 2009.
(4) Veterans for America, The Pennsylvania National Guard, October 27, 2008
(5) Rick Maze, Army Times, VCS in the News: “National Guard and Reservists’ Disability Claims from Iraq and Afghanistan Wars More Likely to be Denied by VA,” Sept. 29, 2008.
(6) Begging and Borrowing to Help Our Soldiers,” Baltimore Sun, January 14, 2008, Pg. 1, by David Wood.
(7) Nina Petersen-Perlman, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Same Service, same sacrifice, different treatment, November 1, 2007

Geoffrey Millard
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

I’d like to start out by thanking the Committee for allowing me the opportunity to testify. This is an important matter that will affect the long-term safety of not only Maryland but also states across the country. My name is Geoffrey Millard I am now the Chair of the national Board of Directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War. I spent 9 years in the NY Army National Guard to include multiple tours of duty at the world trade center after 9-11, many statewide emergencies, and 13 months in Iraq. In fact in order to get a four-year bachelors degree it took me 9 years.

Other than my deployment to Iraq I did not mind these activations because I was doing what I signed up for, helping my fellow citizens. I helped move snow, trees, and ice during storms. I helped to secure ground zero in the days after 9-11. But for 13 months I was in Iraq, where I could not help New Yorkers no matter what my family and friends were going through. Living on the same base as I did in Iraq was the Louisiana Army National Guard who watched Katrina destroy their homes on TV. They should have been there to help their fellow citizens. In fact the full 42nd ID (of which I was member) with all its experience in disaster recovery should have been there to help. Instead we could only watch from TV as we helped to destroy another country.

"Living on the same base as I did in Iraq was the Louisiana Army National Guard who watched Katrina destroy their homes on TV. They should have been there to help their fellow citizens. Instead we could only watch from TV as we helped to destroy another country."

Just this past week in Pennsylvania a man died in the snowstorm because despite a dozen calls to 911, emergency workers could not get to him. They did not have the equipment to get to him but the PA NG does. The Guard has HUM-V ambulances that would have had little trouble keeping that man alive. Most sates do not have the budget to buy this equipment for an occasional use so the Guard is a critical cog in the machine of our society. But where was the PA NG? I’ll give you a clue; it was way too hot there for any snow at all.

What will happen when Maryland’s Guard is needed and they are deployed to Iraq? Who in this room will have their lives put at risk? How many of Maryland’s Guard will die in a mistake?

I urge the committee and the Maryland Senate to pass HB 1037! There were no weapons of mass destruction and there is no reason for Maryland to allow its Guard to again be deployed into a war based on lies.

Thank you.

Dr. Jean Athey
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

My name is Dr. Jean Athey. I am retired now and live in Brookeville, MD. I formerly worked at the National Institute of Mental Health in a program focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

National Guard members have the highest rates of mental health problems in the military and the worst access to care.

A Department of Defense report states that veterans and family members give up trying to find appropriate services after “the tenth or eleventh” unsuccessful phone call for an appointment.

A DOD study(1) states that 49% of National Guard members report serious mental health symptoms three months after demobilization, the highest of all the services, and up to one in four may experience PTSD. National Guard troops also face much greater risk of alcohol-related problems.(2)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which can range from mild to debilitating, is quite common among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and it is often seen in combination with PTSD.

There are very, very few mental health professionals in the private sector trained to provide treatment for PTSD, and even fewer for PTSD complicated by TBI. Essentially none of those who can provide such treatment are available outside of a military treatment facility, such as Bethesda Naval Hospital.

Our Maryland Guard troops go home to their communities when demobilized—to Salisbury, Easton, Cumberland. There, they won’t find the highly-trained community providers they need, and frequent travel to Bethesda is not feasible for most. The DOD report states that veterans and family members give up trying to find appropriate services after “the tenth or eleventh” unsuccessful phone call for an appointment.(3)

We are sending our young Guard members into situations that not only may kill or dismember them. They also face a 50% chance of soul-destroying emotional damage, and there is no viable system of care to help them.

I don’t believe the National Guard was established to be a first-line military service, as it has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if we do decide to send our Maryland Guard to war, the least we can do is be absolutely certain that the deployment orders are legal and constitutional. If they are not, the Governor should demand that the State’s Guard come home. That’s all this legislation asks.

(1) An Achievable Vision, Report of the DOD Task Force on Mental Health, June 2007, http://www.health.mil/dhb/mhtf/MHTF-Report-Final.pdf.
(2) Isabel Jacobsen, et al., “Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Problems Before and After Military Combat Deployment,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 300 (6) 663-675, 2008.
(3) An Achievable Vision, ibid.

James Klimasky
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

House Bill 1037, concerning continued overseas deployment of the Maryland National Guard, is narrowly drafted legislation which calls upon the governor to question the authority of the Federal Government to continue mobilizing Maryland National Guard units and send them overseas aftger their mission is comp;lete. Such action by the governor is neither unconstitutional nor preempted by any Federal law.

The President may not maintain National Guard forces in Iraq for purposes other than those set forth in the Congressional authorization.

The basis for the Guard mobilization to Iraq, the 2002 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), was narrow and specific. Its purposes were (1) to protect the United States from the perceived threat posed by Iraq, and (2) to enforce United Nations resolutions relating to this Iraq threat. Since Iraq no longer, if it ever did, poses a threat to the national security of the United States, nor are there any relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions left to be enforced, authorization for continued call up of Maryland National Guard units to Iraqis clearly in question.

Change in the basis for the 2002 Congressional authorization is not within the President’s discretion as commander-in-chief. The President may not maintain National Guard forces in Iraq for purposes other than those set forth in the Congressional authorization. This legislation, House Bill 1034, requires the Governor to request return of the National Guard to his authority when those purposes have been fulfilled.

This legislation is not in conflict with federal law. In fact, it is formulated on the bedrock upon which this country was created – a federal republic. The United States Constitution recognizes that the Federal Government’s powers stem for the people and the states which make up this Republic.

The Governor of Maryland has a right and a duty to the citizens in this state to question the federalization of the Maryland National Guard for continued service where the mandate for such action is no longer authorized by Congressional Resolution and where the United States has not delegated any authority to the United Nations to authorize deployment of US. Forces based upon UN resolutions not specified in the 2002 Congressional action.

James Klimaski is a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. He is a member of the DC Bar and the National Lawyers Guild and was a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Karen O’Keefe
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

Good afternoon, honorable Chairman Hammen, members of the committee. I’m Karen O’Keefe, a resident of district 20. I’m here to urge you to favorably report House Bill 1037.

We do not know what disasters may strike in the future in Maryland or elsewhere in the United States. But whatever they are, having a significant proportion of our National Guard serving in foreign wars instead of being home to adequately plan for and respond to disasters will hurt our ability to respond.

At the time Katrina struck, more than 7,000 Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard members were in Iraq.

I graduated from Loyola School of Law in New Orleans in 2003 and moved to the D.C. area. A friend and a hero of mine, Bill Quigley, who directs Loyola’s poverty law center, let me and others know that he would be staying at Memorial Hospital with his wife, Debbie, who is an oncology nurse, during the hurricane. The day after the hurricane, on August 30, 2005, he let us know the levees had broken and asked us to pass word on to state and federal authorities that there were 1,300 people trapped in the hospital including 250 very ill ones.

For the next two days, I did just that. I enlisted my colleague, and we tried to get help both by phone and emails, including to FEMA, the Red Cross, elected officials, and the media. We got through to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, and they said they’d notify search and rescue. Although perhaps 100 people were evacuated on the 30th, that was not nearly enough given that 250 people were very ill.

Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune spoke to Bill on August 31. Bill described critically ill patients lying on stretchers in 110-degree heat as relatives fanned them with cardboard. He reported that there were about a half dozen dead bodies downstairs. Nurses carried critically ill patients up dark, slippery stairways to the eighth floor, where they were told helicopters would ferry them to medical institutions. But the helicopters never came and they had to be brought back down. Judith also reached spokesperson of the hospital’s parent company, Tenet, on the 31st who said they were trying to secure private helicopters and boats, “but that resources are in short supply.”

Eventually, at 9:30 p.m. the next day, three days after the hurricane, and a day after the back-up generators had failed, the last living patient was evacuated from Memorial — not by our government, but by helicopters arranged by Tenet. Private volunteers also came to help, and that’s how Bill got out. Forty-five people ended up dying in Memorial Hospital. 1,723 total people died in the storm and due to the broken levees and failed response. I wonder how many of them would have been saved if there had been thousands of more National Guard rescuers, with their equipment. At the time Katrina struck, more than 7,000 Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard members were in Iraq. That’s 35% and 40% of the total forces.

There is much to criticize about the response to Katrina. But having so many personnel and so much equipment 7,000 miles away instead of being on hand to assist after disasters was a key failure. I urge the committee to report HB 1037 favorably. Thank you for your time.

Karen O’Keefe is a resident of Silver Spring, MD

Gail Owens
Testimony to the House Health and Government Operations Committee in Support of HB 1037

My name is Gail Owens. I've lived in the State of Maryland since 1972.

About three years ago retired Marine Corps Maj. General Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, told Congress that “we are putting our citizens at greater risk and our economy at greater risk” by relegating homeland defense to a backseat role.

General Accounting Office: "High use of the National Guard for federal overseas missions has reduced equipment available for its state-led domestic missions, at the same time it faces an expanded array of threats at home."

About a year ago, the Maryland Army National Guard estimated it had only half the equipment and just two-thirds of the materials required for front-line homeland security.

Kansas officials have testified that the absence of Guard personnel and equipment seriously impacted that state's ability to deal with the devastation of the 2006 tornado.

Louisiana Guard commanders & state and local officials in Louisiana and Mississippi cited the shortage of troops and absence of adequate communication and transportation equipment as a major impediment to responding well to Hurricane Katrina.

Less than a year and a half ago Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee. He noted that the National Guard's “man-days” devoted to homeland emergencies increased by almost 60 percent in the past year.

A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that “the high use of the National Guard for federal overseas missions has reduced equipment available for its state-led domestic missions, at the same time it faces an expanded array of threats at home.”

Haiti and Chile are harbingers of unusual weather patterns due to climate change and require greater preparedness for unpredictable natural and other calamities. Maryland's government would be irresponsible to ignore the potential dangers.
Maryland's Guard staying at home translates into emergency preparedness in addition to stable Guard families. Multiple recalls abroad fracture families by absence, loss of income, and the terrible, often life-long, repercussions of physical and mental trauma and devastation suffered in battle. Maryland's Guard didn't sign up for foreign wars. They signed up to help fellow citizens face disasters at home. That's where they need to stay.

Elected officials of the State of Maryland need to stand up to the back door draft and provide strong checks and balances on improper use of a cherished and vital state asset-- Maryland's National Guard.

Gail Owens is a resident of Montgomery Village, MD.