Maryland "Bring the Guard Home" does its homework

The week of March 8 was an important one for activists in two states working to reform federal use of their states' National Guards, with hearings scheduled before both the Maryland and Wisconsin legislatures on "Safeguard the Guard" legislation.

The Wisconsin hearings had the feel of an informal statewide "Vets for Peace" convention, bringing together vets from Milwaukee, Madison, Sheboygan, Mt. Horeb, Elkhorn and elsewhere to testify in support of AB203, a bill to require the Governor to review all federal deployment orders and to refuse any order determined to be unlawful (more on the Wisconsin hearing here...)

And the Maryland campaign clearly did its homework, building a case for their own bill, HB1037, by bringing to light information about the widespread overuse and abuse of the Guard of many states, with carefully footnoted testimony that will be a valuable resource to "Bring the Guard Home" campaigns all over the country.
Ellen Barfield, a US Army vet and director of the  Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter of Veterans for Peace in Baltimore, led off the testimony with a quote from Pennsylvania 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."

Barfield noted that, nationwide, "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." And in Maryland, "One in five Maryland Guard members separates or divorces within a year of return to civilian life."

Dr. Jean Athey, a retired physician from Brookeville, MD, who formerly worked at the National Institute of Mental Health in a program focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, reported on a 2007 Department of Defense study that found 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. The study also found that National Guard troops also face a much greater risk of alcohol-related problems.

Dr. Athey also reported on the frustration that many Guard families experience when they seek treatment, noting that the same Department of Defense report found that veterans and family members give up trying to find appropriate services after “the tenth or eleventh” unsuccessful phone call for an appointment.

Along with the damage caused to Guard members themselves, several speakers drew attention to the danger presented to residents of states that have seen their local disaster response depleted by overseas Guard deployments.

Geoffrey Millard, a 9-year New York Guard veteran and Chair of the national Board of Directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke of his experience in Iraq: "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."

Karen O’Keefe, a resident of Silver Spring, MD, noted that, at the time Katrina struck, more than 7,000 Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard members were in Iraq.

And Gail Owens, from Montgomery Village, MD, cited a General Accounting Office report that found that, "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."


Full written testimony from the Maryland hearings is here...