Today is our 4,615th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,319
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,120
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 537, 097, 125, 000 .00
I've had a couple of short weeks as of late, so I'm afraid our queue of stories has gotten a little short. Nevertheless, we'll still clean out what we have here today.
We'll start with the tale of two drugs. One is readily available throughout the US military. Many soldiers, sailors, and airmen use it recreationally with the full sanction of the authorities; it's even available on ship and on base throughout the military. The other drug is a dangerous mind-altering drug that can be addictive, poisonous, or otherwise unhealthy for anyone. So, the military is looking into banning one outright, and surprisingly enough there has been some promising news with the other regarding PTSD.
First...of course it's tobacco. The military used to include cigarettes in their rations, and throughout wartime they've been used as a form of currency or barter. But the US Navy has decided the health risks are too great, and they moved to stop selling these items on land bases and on board ships. Naturally, Congress had other ideas.
House lawmakers moved Wednesday to protect tobacco sales on military bases and ships, prohibiting Navy plans to drop the problematic products in the name of force health.
As part of its annual defense authorization bill mark up on Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee added language forbidding defense officials from enacting “any new policy that would limit, restrict, or ban the sale of any legal consumer product category” on military installations.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said the measure was in direct response to reports that the Navy is working to eliminate tobacco sales at exchanges and on ships. Commissaries on Navy bases currently do not sell tobacco products.
The move would be the most dramatic so far among military officials trying to keep servicemembers from picking up or continuing the habit. In 2012, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus labeled tobacco as “the most avoidable public health hazard in the Navy and Marine Corps.”
The push had been a priority for Mabus, who said it would promote health — and ultimately readiness.
“We demand that sailors and Marines be incredibly fit, and we know that tobacco hurts that fitness,” Mabus said in a March 27 interview with Navy Times. “We know that the cost for health care far exceeds any profit that we could possibly make selling that. We know that it brings bad health-care results and fitness results.”
But Hunter and members of the House panel argued that the anti-smoking efforts amount to unneeded hand-holding of troops who are responsible adults and can make their own life choices.
“Just because you joined the service doesn’t mean you can’t live comfortably,” said Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran. “If your goal is to make the military healthy, let’s outlaw war. That’s as unhealthy as you can get.”
Then there's MDMA, or "Molly".
A small but important study that has shown remarkable results using a combination of the drug MDMA - known on the street as ecstasy or "Molly" - and conventional therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder could be of significant value to thousands of veterans in Texas.
The South Carolina study, performed by Dr. Michael Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, under the auspices of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, involves the short-term use, under close psychiatric care, of the drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine, known medically as MDMA.
If approved for psychiatric use, the treatment could offer relief for the thousands of PTSD sufferers in Houston and San Antonio, which have among the largest concentrations of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the country. Of the 130,000 veterans registered in the Houston area, 9,695 have been treated for PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The study began in 2001 and is currently in its second phase. If a third phase is approved, the therapy almost certainly would be available in Texas in a few years.
"For quite some time we've known the potential of MDMA to help with psychological problems," said Jane C. Maxwell, a senior research scientist in the school of social work at the University of Texas at Austin who studies MDMA, "We've begun to understand that some banned drugs may have special potential. I welcome the fact that we are able to go back and look at these drugs. This is a small study, but it has significant potential."
Most of the study's subjects were victims of child sexual abuse and rape who hadn't found relief through other therapies. They were given eight to 10 sessions of psychiatric counseling, and in two of the sessions were given a dose of MDMA. They were then allowed, of their own volition, to bring up the memories that had tormented them.
In 83 percent of the 21 cases, according to Mithoefer, the subjects were found to be symptom-free for up to four years later.
"It's tricky talking about a cure, but it is a sustained remission," said Mithoefer.
I'll finish up this morning with a story from deep inside the Air Force. With everything going on in combat, on the budget front, and everything else that the military has to deal with, the Air Force Chief of Staff has identified the biggest problem facing the service today
. "[It's] the perception that somehow there is religious persecution inside the United States Air Force".
WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s top general appeared to be losing his cool. But it wasn’t over a controversial plan to scrap an aircraft prized for protecting ground troops or billions of dollars in cuts that are straining a service striving to recover from the grind of 12 years of war.
“The single biggest frustration I’ve had in this job is the perception that somehow there is religious persecution inside the United States Air Force,” Gen. Mark Welsh III told a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this spring. “It’s not true.”
Welsh’s irritation underscored the pressure the Air Force is under from Republicans in Congress, evangelical Christians and conservative advocacy groups to end what they allege is the service’s suppression of religious freedom. Their charge isn’t new, but the target is: a regulation designed to prevent religious bias by barring commanders and other leaders from “the actual or apparent use of their positions to promote their religious convictions to their subordinates.”
The controversy represents the latest chapter in the Air Force’s yearslong struggle to balance the constitutional right of freedom of faith with the Constitution’s prohibition on the governmental promotion of religion.
“It’s when the commander becomes the preacher that we have a problem,” said a former senior defense official who dealt with the issue but requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “It’s commanders turning to subordinates and saying, ‘Here’s what makes my life worthwhile. It’s going to my church and subscribing to my views.’ ”
Opponents counter that the regulation is constitutionally questionable and contravenes provisions Congress inserted into the Pentagon’s last two budgets requiring the military to “accommodate individual expressions of belief” unless “it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.”
“The Air Force religious freedom regulations and practices are inconsistent with the Constitution and with current law,” 20 House of Representatives Republicans wrote in an April 15 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. The regulation “introduces a subjective and unworkable restriction on a leader’s ability to speak about their faith.”
The Air Force defends the regulation as a measure that “seems to make good sense.” Yet the pressure — legislation, congressional hearings, meetings, letters, media statements and online appeals — to revise or dump it is having an impact.
Late last month, James and Welsh convened a “Religious Freedom Focus Day” conference of senior chaplains and legal and manpower officials to discuss the policy. An Air Force spokeswoman, Rose Richeson, declined to make the results of the April 28 meeting public, saying it would be “too premature to provide an interview.”
But Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative policy institute that leads a coalition of organizations that are fighting the regulation, said that based on what he’d heard from people at the meeting he expected the Air Force to “make a policy change shortly.”
The prospect alarms supporters of the policy, who say a pro-Christian bias in the Air Force remains overwhelming and that the regulation provides an avenue of relief to service members who object to being regaled with their superiors’ religious views or who worry that declining invitations to “voluntary” Bible classes might jeopardize their fitness reports and chances of promotion.
And having been proselytized myself recently, I'll have more to say on this subject come Saturday.