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Friday, February 01, 2013

Defense Secretary Must Care for the Nation's Armed Forces

Although Defense Secretary nominee Senator Hagel was relentlessly drilled by the confirmation committee of his peers, the questions he was asked neglected to focus on the job he is seeking. A Defense Secretary doesn't take positions on Israel, or on reinventing the reasons for past wars (ethical, or justified or not). Rather, the position Senator Hagel seeks puts him in charge of the US military and defense systems. This includes the well being of American military personnel. 

Right now, the well being of America's military is being harmed by the high rate of suicides.

Reuters reports the most extensive study yet by the U.S. government on suicide among military veterans shows more veterans are killing themselves than previously thought, with 22 deaths a day - or one every 65 minutes, on average.  A Defense Secretary must fix this tragedy.  Military personnel need access to immediate crisis care when there is any hint of suicide.  There must be a quality initiative in place to intervene in areas where clusters of suicide are high. Most important, the goal of these efforts must be to reduce these rates to zero.

A study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs covered suicides from 1999 to 2010 and compared with a previous, less precise VA estimate that there were roughly 18 veteran deaths a day in the United States.

When Senator Hagel is, hopefully, approved as Defense Secretary by the US Senate, his job at the Pentagon will be to improve the military from a traditional to a technically smarter force.  In so doing, he must direct military leaders to protect the investment Americans make in our defense personnel by taking care of their physical, mental and socioeconomic well being.  

Hagel's job is to care for America's armed forces, beginning with eliminating the suicide rate among our military personnel.

Filling the shoes of past Secretaries of Defense, like William Cohen or Robert Gates will certainly be challenging for Hagel.  Nevertheless, his qualifications to lead the military should have nothing to do with what he said in the past about Israel or even his opinion about the illegal war in Iraq.  Rather, Hagel should have been asked drilling questions about how he will upgrade America's military in light of defense draw downs.  But, instead, many Senators just wanted to hear themselves talk on television.

For his part, Hagel should have re-directed the Senator's tangential questions to frame his own understanding of the difficulties impending in the lead Pentagon job.

Senator Hagel's competencies at the Pentagon will certainly be a work in progress, but the future Secretary's positions on Israel or Iraq won't be considerations in his future job evaluations.

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