Recently Lenore described our work with the GI Rights Hotline to a Guatemalan immigrant friend. “The government must not like you,” he said. “Once you’re in the US military, they make it almost impossible to get out.” Not everyone with whom we talk grasps so quickly the significance of our work with US military members. Taking calls on the GI Rights Hotline is one way in which Quaker House is resisting the militarization of our country and the misappropriation of critical resources.
Most of our calls come from military members who want to get out, and for many of them, it does feel impossible. The mother of a recent recruit called us desperate to get her son back from the Army. He had reported for basic training only a few weeks before she found herself homeless. She needed her son at home, and he wanted out. We counseled the family for several weeks, discussing options, explaining what does and doesn’t usually work in such situations. When the soldier failed out of his training class due to stress and depression, the Army decided it was in everyone’s best interest to let him go. Mother and son called us from their new home to express gratitude for our support.
We also worked with a sailor recently who hit a wall when his command did not take his mental health issues seriously. This sailor called us feeling depressed and suicidal. We encouraged him to get to the Naval hospital, where doctors saw him briefly and then referred him to his ship’s psychiatrist. After only one conversation with him, the ship’s psychiatrist disregarded his symptoms and declared him good to sail. Feeling that his suicidal thoughts would only worsen at sea, the sailor decided to leave without authorization (UA or unauthorized absence in the Navy and Marines, same as AWOL in other branches) and headed back home to stay with family. The police showed up at the door almost immediately (which is not typical), but luckily, he was away from the house at the time. He moved in with other family members at a different location. His mental health improved once he left the ship, but he continued to suffer anxiety that he would be caught. We referred him to the Civilian Medical Resource Network (CMRN) for a mental health evaluation and support. Four months later, we helped him contact the Navy to fax in paperwork necessary for a “discharge in absentia,” and the Navy granted the discharge. He was infinitely grateful for our assistance and the information we provided to him during this difficult time.
We continue to work with a number of conscientious objectors, including two young men who called recently to ask about registering for the draft as conscientious objectors (CO). Currently, the Selective Service does not recognize CO registrations. We explain options for documenting their CO beliefs in preparation to make a claim for deferment, should a draft return. QH Treasurer Curt Torell has generously shared his expertise on draft registration and offered to work with these callers. We are also supporting three active duty officers (each of whom had also attended service academies) who have submitted CO applications. We are inspired by their willingness to stand up against the military culture that was part of their education and for which they are now leaders.
Even when getting out of the military seems doubtful, we are able to hold out a different reality to our callers. Thanks to all who support our work and allow us to accompany so many as they seek discharge. You help make the impossible possible.
By Steve Woolford and Lenore Yarger, Quaker House Counselors to the GI Rights Hotline
Published in our Spring 2019 newsletter, News from the HomeFront.