Military news is more than just breaking stories about forward-deployed troops, combat operations, and military operations. There are many issues that affect troops and their families, and the purpose of this column is to provide a weekly roundup of news that affects military communities and families. Here are some of the week’s most important stories.
DoD Revises COVID-19 Guidelines
This week, the Department of Defense updated its COVID-19 readiness guidelines, clarifying when troops must wear masks, how they must self-screen for coronavirus, and when to isolate or go into quarantine.
An August 8, 2022 memo requires base commanders to revise their base Health Protection Condition Levels based on CDC guidelines for the local area. These conditions must be revised within two weeks of any changed CDC guidelines.
The new guidelines also require troops to “self-screen for symptoms” before entering any Department of Defense operation or interacting with the public on official business. At the time of the new memo, indoor mask requirements still apply “on DOD transportation including aircraft and boats regardless of vaccination status or DOD Community Level”.
There is also new guidance on vaccinations; troops are considered “up to date” on COVID-19 vaccinations when they have received all recommended shots and boosters. New quarantine guidelines require a five-day lockdown for anyone who is a close contact of someone who is infected.
VA Introduces QuickSumbit
The Department of Veterans Affairs has unveiled a new online tool that helps veterans make disability claims with the VA. QuickSubmit is the replacement for an older VA portal called Direct Upload. You can use QuickSubmit to send documents to the VA instead of mailing or faxing them (yes, people still use fax machines in America from time to time) to the agency.
The VA bills this as being a “human-centered” process that combines technology that allows the submission of larger files and docs and according to the VA, this online tool “automatically transfers claim documents and information for preliminary processing”. You will need to register for access to QuickSubmit before submitting VA claims documentation even if you used the old system for submissions in the past.
When Will The U.S. Army Move Soldiers Out Of Moldy Fort Bragg Barracks?
Stars And Stripes reports some 1,200 soldiers are due to be moved out of mold-contaminated barracks at Fort Bragg. But the timeline for this move is in question by multiple news outlets.
At least one source reports that in spite of some U.S. Army barracks at Fort Bragg being declared basically uninhabitable (by the Sergeant Major of the Army no less) the timeline for getting these troops out of mold-infested quarters does not seem to have the sense of urgency you might expect. Especially connected to a major health issue affecting troops there.
One source reports that a Fort Bragg spokesperson indicated the Army “hopes” to start relocating troops in the next 30 days. But the question remains; if these were the quarters for the Sergeant Major of the Army, how long do you think a relocation might take in that scenario?
No, moving 1,200 troops is not the same as moving one family, but Fort Bragg mold complaints have been ongoing for YEARS. What does the U.S. Army owe these troops?
Some believe being more responsive to serious medical issues like mold contamination is a good start–ESPECIALLY when the Army can’t meet its recruitment goals for the year. News stories like these won’t help in that department.
U.S. Navy: More Cash For New Recruits
The United States Navy extended its maximum recruiting bonus in February 2022, pushing the maximum to $50K for qualifying new recruits. But now, future sailors and currently serving military members who agree to reenlist could earn the maximum bonus AND have the Navy repay student loans with a cap of $115 thousand total per qualifying person. This as all branches of the military struggle to hit recruitment quotas for the current fiscal year.
Air Force Policy Changes Offer More Privacy For Pregnant Airmen In Air Mobility Command
Air Force Times reports that troops stationed at bases under the jurisdiction of Air Mobility Command (AMC) will benefit from new medical privacy guidelines. This comes thanks to a directive by the AMC commander, who issued the orders to protect medical privacy for those who need prenatal care.
According to the AF Times report, pregnancy is “the only medical condition” that is mentioned by name in readiness reports, medical “profiles” used for fitness test waivers, and other documentation. The mention of a specific medical condition means that diagnosis is “accessible to the unit before some women are able to process the news” or discuss the issue with family members.
Now, pregnant airmen working for AMC are given a “general” 30-day medical profile documenting requirements for duty but not mentioning medical specifics. In short Air Mobility Command treats the pregnancy diagnosis as a “need to know” issue–those who do not expressly need to know are not informed unless the patient chooses to do so.
The larger issue at stake here? This is a command directive, not a service-wide or DoD-wide initiative. Until medical privacy issues are handled in a consistent policy across all branches of service, this issue will remain a sticking point for many.
Air Force Pilot Program Seeks To Streamline Abuse And Assault Claims, Support
Seven Air Force bases are part of a new pilot program called the Integrated Response Co-Location Pilot Program, which seeks to centralize resources and support for those who are victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and bullying.
This push comes after the results of a 2021 study that revealed “thousands” of unreported cases of all the above among Air Force troops. As part of the test, sexual assault advocates and counselors are placed in a single facility on base. Five different services are co-located now under the program:
- Victim’s Counsel
- Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
- Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate
- Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate
- Religious Support Team
The Air Force Personnel Center issued a press statement about the program stating that victim support is the prime mover behind the program. Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones issued the directive for this experiment.
“Co-locating support services for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence is meant to help victims easily navigate available resources.” Ortiz Jones said in the press release, adding, “We’re committed to increasing awareness of response services, minimizing the number of times a victim has to tell their story, and collecting the data to improve response and prevention efforts.”
This program is being tested at the following installations:
- Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas
- Vandenberg Space Force Base, California
- Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
- Hill Air Force Base, Utah
- Misawa Air Base, Japan
- RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
- Offutt AFB, Nebraska
It should be noted that these bases include major operations; Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas is a massive military operation that includes parts of the former Brooks Air Force Base, Kelly Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston, Camp Bullis, and others.