Growing up as an Army brat, I used to believe a military career path was an option I would viably consider under certain circumstances. My experiences as of late, however, have completely altered the way I view the military in this country, and I can confidently say I will probably never again consider this as a serious choice.
To put it bluntly, the United States is really slacking on taking care of their veterans and even their currently enlisted personnel. Between the wave of sexual assault scandals and the widespread inefficiency of the Veterans Affairs, I am honestly amazed at anyone who would want to join the military at this point.
Last Thursday, the Senate blocked New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill that would limit the authority of military commanders to decide which sexual assault cases would be prosecuted.
The bill came in response to the burgeoning discussion about sexual assaults within the military seen in the past year. It is estimated that in 2012, there were as many as 26,000 sexual assaults on service members; unfortunately, approximately 4,000 were reported and only half of those were prosecuted. The bill received only 55 of the 60 votes needed to clear the procedural hurdles.
Thankfully, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was able to get a similar bill passed with a unanimous vote. Her bill was not quite as far reaching as Gillibrand's, but it reflects the same overall goals. Significant changes included in McCaskill's bill are the disposal of the "good soldier" defense, as well as more legal rights and better representation for victims.
But the choice to prosecute will still be in the hands of military commanders. According to Leo Shane III of The Military Times, this fact presents a problem in that commanders often know both the victim and the alleged abuser. Given the blatant conflicts of interest, I cannot fathom why the system was organized this way.
McCaskill's bill is certainly a step in the right direction, but I think the point she is missing – and Gillibrand has pointed this out multiple times – is they have already tried it that way, and it doesn't work. If it did, more than 8 percent of those 26,000 reports in 2012 would have been prosecuted.
Further, if the military took sexual assault on its members as seriously as they should, being a good soldier would never have been a viable defense for being a sexual predator.
In a similar vein, the extreme inefficiency of the VA is especially disturbing to me.
This semester, I am in a position where I regularly help people file for federal benefits such as unemployment and Social Security.
My least favorite agency to help people navigate is the VA: in 2013, there was a backlog of 600,000 claims, meaning the claim sat for 125 days or more without even being reviewed.
Just last week, I worked with a man who was told to call at the end of February to get an appointment with the VA for March, and when he did they told him March was completely booked and he would have to wait another three months. Both he and his wife qualify as more than 50 percent disabled veterans, and we can't even get them an appointment.
Given that there are about 20 million veterans in America, I understand why this is not always a speedy process, but how about a little transparency?
Call me high maintenance, but if I were to join the military, I would expect better treatment than many have received in the last few years. I sincerely hope more attention is drawn to both of these issues in the coming months.
Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.