Thursday, March 11, 2010

No politician left behind







Starting with yesterday evening's US House Armed Services subcommittee hearing. The Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing chaired by US House Rep Susan Davis on the issue of military children. At the start of the hearing, Chair Davis explained, "Given the limited legislative calendar available to the committee, today we are embarking on a different hearing structure. This hearing will focus on a specific topic: the effects of deployment on military children and will only last approximately one hour, prior to our votes at six-thirty [p.m.]."

It is an important topic. Hopefully, the topic will be addressed again in the future and, if so, we can see some real independence in the witnesses. We need to see clinical social workers, we need to see child psychiatrists and pscyhologists and family practioners and more testifying. If the children are our focus. If it's not just, "This is how we make the military brass happy." Which is a lot of what we heard: How to make the military brass happy.

I want to stress before we go further that if you are the mother or father raising the child (or children) while you're spouse is away (or the grandparent or legal guardian raising the child), you know best what to do. You are with the child. If there's a problem, you know that and you know you need to address it and seek out help available. But some of the stuff that follows, I want to be very clear, you do not need to be guilted into anything. Your primary concern is the child.

Two witnesses appeared before the subcommittee: Anita Chandra (RAND Corporation) and Leonard Wong (US Army War College). Ranking Member Joe Wilson's opening remarks included, "Finally, I would like to know how else we could help these incredible children who have to be strong beyond their years while their parent is away." Wong presented that his study found children ages eleven through teens spoke of less stress when a parent deployed if the parent had already been on at least two other deployments.

Chair Susan Davis: Let me just start with you, Dr. Wong, because I found that interesting in terms of the adolescents and one of things I wondered about is you are able to separate those young people who were living in a more confined military base versus those who were living in the public domain essentially -- attending public school versus a military, on-base school? What differences did you see?

Leonard Wong: That's a good question and we did ask both of those. We asked, "Did you live on base?" -- versus off post. And we also asked, "Did you go to a DoD school or a public school?" What we discovered is that there's really only in this age group -- age eleven to seventeen -- there are only two DoD high schools anyway. So that question sort of went away. So as far as the on-post, off-post, we did not find a difference. Why is that? It could be because some place like Fort Carson where off post there is a huge variance in what off-post experience is. There are some that are far away and they're very civilianized, but there are some that are very close and they're very military. What we think we heard from the anecdotal evidence we picked up in the interviews was how much the family participated in the post activities as opposed to where they lived was a bigger factor.

Chair Susan Davis: Mm-hmm. And so if they participated heavily in post advitivites, there was a higher level --

Leonard Wong: Exactly. As opposed to -- and then when they lived off post, they took the time to take advantage of activities.

Chair Susan Davis: Alright. Yeah.

Leonard Wong: Interestingly during deployment, you reduce the persons available to drive-to activities by 50%.

Chair Susan Davis: Mm-hmm. Dr. Chandra -- and I think, Dr. Wong, you can weigh in on this as well -- while there were certainly differences in your studies, one of the things that was similar is that if the non-deployed parent, the extant or the well being of that parent particularly or provider as it relates to their own mental health. Was their anything particular that you found that was quite supportive of that non-deployed parent? That, you know, jumped out a little bit, that was more unusual, whether or not they actually accessed services, family support centers, etc. Did you learn anything about what kind of programs perhaps that that non-deployed parent took advantage of?

Anita Chandra: For this study, we didn't look at the services that non-deployed care givers access. We are looking at that issue in follow up analysis. But certainly, we had a very strong relationship between the care giver's mental health and their ability to cope as well as the ability for their children to handle some of the deployment stressors.

Leonard Wong: For our study, we did ask the spouse how they handled deployments and that was a very significant factor. From the interviews, what we discovered was that the -- a key factor in the spouse's dealing with deployment is the family readiness group and-and that is a strong factor and you could almost tell in the children how active the parents were and the children saw that as -- as a nondeployed spouses role during the deployment.

Chair Susan Davis: Mm-hmm. Were there any particular gaps that you picked up in speaking with them? Something that would have been helpful? One of the things actually that I picked up over a number of contacts with military families is the lack of tutoring assistance. That the non-deployed parent has sort of lost that extension in terms of helping out with school. And they said, "If we only had more ability to access tutors or get some help because I," as one of the parents would say, "I can't -- I've got three kids, I can't help them all at one time."

Leonard Wong: We didn't pick up anything like that. What we heard was a lot of spouses just want someone to listen to and chat with and talk about things, to feel like they're not alone. As far as specific tutoring programs? We didn't pick up that.

Anita Chandra: For this part of the study we focused specifically on the types of challenges that children are facing during and after deployment. So what we found is that there were things that they endorsed as highly difficult -- both from the care giver perspective as well as children. And these were things like missing school activities, finding out that people in the community really didn't understand what life was like for them. So they definitely articulated some of those things that you're referencing as more common challenges -- particularly during the deployment.

Chair Susan Davis: Mm-hmm. What do you think should be done to assist military families?

Anita Chandra: Well I think our studies -- both of our studies -- really point to the needs of older youth and as we reference in our work there's certainly been a lot more attention on younger children -- younger than 12. For which we know that there are a lot of child development and support programs on base and off. So what we hope from this work is that it starts to identify some of the needs of older youth and teenagers so that we can look at the programs that we currently have and try and figure out, "Are we alinging our programs with those needs? Particularly of adolescents and, particularly, those oler adolescents.

Leonard Wong: What our study showed was also a similar focus but what I liked about our study was the surprising findings that there are some obvious, easy things like sports activities. The kids need to be busy to keep them distracted. Strong families. Oh that's a hard one. And yet it's very intutitive to all of us that you need a strong family. That starts long before deployment and it starts maybe even before the soldier comes into the army. But how do you influence -- because we found that the factors of the child's beliefs -- what they feel about the army, what they feel about the nation makes a difference. And they'll see through propaganda. So how do you influence a child's beliefs?

We'll cut him off there. How do you influence a child's belief? You don't. Their parents or care givers can. We jumped in on that and I want to stress, if you're the parent raising the child while your spouse is deployed, you do what works for you. Not what some expert tells you. Don't be guilted into doing anything. If participating in base activities is your thing, that's great and participate. But you may have any number of reasons for not participating. Including work but I'm thinking of a base where there's a high ranking male that a number of wives see as a predator. The easiest way to deal with it -- while their husbands were deployed -- was to avoid the base. If that's you, avoid the base. You're doing what you need to do to take care of yourself and your children. No one knows better how to do that than you because you're the one, hands on, there every day.

Also remember that Susan Davis called them "doctors." I did not. I will call a medical doctor a "doctor" and I will call a psychologist a "doctor." I do not call a behavioral scientist with a PhD a doctor. And behavioral scientists working for certain outlets are not doing research on children for children, they're doing it to make the larger wheel -- in this case, the military -- run smoother. In other words, your child -- whether you're a mother or a father -- is your primary concern. That is not always the case with behavioral scientists working for the military.

And let's go back to "distraction." Wong said "distraction." I raised kids via distraction. I'm all for distraction. I distract them from this with that. But he said sports were a good distraction and that's a red flag for many parents because their children don't participate in sports and they're left with: Can this apply to me? Or else with, "I've got to force the kid to play sports." Wong explained later that he also looked at whether they were in band and/or drama club and boys and girls clubs like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Really?

When I was studying piano (and I studied from before I entered school through college), I practiced an average of three hours a day. If I had been a child in their study, I wouldn't have qualified for 'sports." (I would have for other activites but sports weren't that big for women in my childhood days.) I question any study that leaves out something like piano or guitar or any individual instrument (music is so much more helpful -- in terms of mathematics and other skills than many of the things Wong's study included). There are many other activities not included in Wong's study -- that includes drawing and painting. The study is a bunch of the usual macho b.s. you'd expect from the Army War College.

In response to US House Rep Vic Snyder's question about the number of children being talked about, Anita Chandra said it was "1.8 to 2 million children." That's a large number of children. Dr. Snyder (we can call him that, he is one) also emphasized that Wong's study was reduced to only those who are active duty and not to the reserve. Why was that done? "To keep the survey short enough for an eleven-year-old to fill it out," Wong replied. (The children were simplified by Wong's study, as was the survey.) Snyder noted that base activities really wouldn't apply to the reserve children.

US House Rep Vic Snyder: I want to ask about special-needs kids. Did either of your studies look at special-needs kids and how this might impact on them? Because that's a problem that we have in the military even when everybody's home.

Anita Chandra: Unfortunately we didn't include questions about this in this study but we are hoping to include this in follow up work because I think the Exceptional Family Member Program and other services that are available to special-needs families are an important consideration.

Leonard Wong: Our study did not address special-needs specifically but during the interview portion of our study we did have special-needs children arriving for interviews and we took their comments --

US House Rep Vic Snyder: Their thoughts?

Leonard Wong: -- into consideration

US House Rep Vic Snyder: I think, Ms. Davis has heard me talk about this before but -- I don't know, three or four years ago? -- at the LIttle Rock Airforce Base, I had them arrange a meeting with family members of kids with autism. And they had to work at it a little bit because of medical privacy -- so they extended that, we finally ended up with a group -- I can't remember, maybe six to eight parent families were represented there and the most striking thing about it was that they didn't know each other. That it was like, you know, a God's send for them that they finally had other parents on the base -- the Little Rock Air Force Base is supposedly a small base -- but it was their first opportunity to -- we've gotten so protective of people's privacy that there wasn't ability to get people together. So I actually recommended -- I'm told that this has been done by some bases around the country -- that once every so often that the base commander needs to have kind of like Special-Needs Parents Day and get everybody in there for coffee at eight o'clock in the morning and then, at eight-thirty, say, you know, "That's autism corner, that's asthma corner, that's diabetes corner," -- however you want to do it but just to get people -- instruct parents and get parents going because I think this must be a tremendous deployment -- a tremendous potential burden on those families that really have difficulties anyway with a child with either some emotional or physical health issues.

And those were very good points that Snyder raised. The study Wong discussed appeared to especially be geared towards what was easiest -- easiest to count (which is why reserve children were not included), easiest to stereotype, easiest to ask, easy, easy, easy.

Yesterday the US military announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING STATION KALSU, Iraq – Two U.S. Soldiers died yesterday of non-combat related injuries resulting from a vehicle accident. Two other Soldiers were injured in the same accident that is currently being investigated. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin.The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings ICCC's count of the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War to 4382. Last night, Mike observed, "And you realize that if all US troops had been pulled out of Iraq, those two would be alive, right? So those are the first two for this month. And two more reasons why the Iraq War needs to end now. Two more reasons why you need to participate in the March 20th demonstrations calling for an end to the wars." A wide range of groups will be participating and we'll have more on that later in the snapshot.

[. . .]

March 20th, many organizations, groups and individuals will be participating in the march for peace in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Party for Socialism and Liberation will be participating and they announce:
March 20 is the seventh anniversary of the invasion and continuing criminal occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is escalating its war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. More than a million lives have been lost and countless more destroyed through the U.S. aggression. While we're told that there's no money for education, health-care and jobs, next year's real military budget will exceed $1.4 trillion. On that day massive demonstrations will take place in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco to demand:
No colonial-type wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Haiti and more.
Money for jobs, education, health-care, housing; not for wars and bank bailouts.
Join us for analysis and discussion on:
The wars and the war budget.
The plan of action on March 20 in San Francisco and around the country.
A report-back from the March 4 day of action against education cuts and the protests across California and other states. 2489 Mission St. Rm. 28, San Francisco $3 - $5 donation requested, no one turned away for lack of funds. (Refreshments served. Cross street 21st. Near 24th St. BART. MUNI #14, 49, 26. Parking garage located one block west on 21st. St. btwn. Mission & Valencia, parking cost $2/hr.) For more info, or to reserve free childcare (please call at least one day in advance if you would like childcare) contact PSL at 415-821-6171. Check out our website:

World Can't Wait is another organization which will be participating and this is from WCW's Debra Sweet:

"Peace of the Action" starts Monday, March 15 near the Washington Monument as an ongoing protest to demand that the occupations of Iraq & Afghanistan end. Cindy Sheehan was in New York recently with Chelsea Neighbors for Peace, calling on people to participate in its first action, Camp OUT NOW. I will be speaking there on Wednesday March 17, with David Swanson on the need for prosecution of war crimes.
Cindy's new book, Myth America II is online. She includes World Can't Wait in acknowledgements as a group that has made her life easier over this past year and thanks "Debra Sweet from World Can't Wait for being the unwavering moral backbone of this movement and my support 'group' when I was at my all-time Obama-lowest."
Cindy and the thousands of people protesting Saturday, March 20 against Obama's wars, including World Can't Wait, are pushing to make history and change the disastrous direction the U.S. government is pursuing. Find flyers & post your event. Actions in Washington DC, Chicago, Charlottesville VA, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles. Sign up on Facebook.
The World Can't Wait's sustainer fund drive runs through March 15. We can and must fulfill our goal of reaching monthly expenses to strengthen the national resistance to the crimes of our government. You can sign up here at any level you choose.

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