The Ebola quarantines and the great military divide

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The Ebola quarantines and the great military divide

I generally try to avoid any topic about the president, because damn near everyone out there either hates the man reflexively, or sort of worships him.  And so the comments turn into a disaster, and I have to keep monitoring, because some people simply cannot confine their comments to the issue at hand.

Today I am breaking that normal tradition because of all the answers to questions I’ve seen over the years, the president’s answer to an Ebola question the other day unquestionably strikes me as his worst.  Some can argue the validity (politically or actually) of the “you didn’t build that” or the “you can keep your doctor” but for just straight up oddity, I give you the quote below.

But before we get to the quote, as a sort of framing of this, the backdrop is twofold.  First, states are trying to quarantine doctors who treated Ebola patients.  Some knucklehead decided that after treating victims in Africa, he’d just lie to the authorities:

The city’s first Ebola patient initially lied to authorities about his travels around the city following his return from treating disease victims in Africa, law-enforcement sources said.

Dr. Craig Spencer at first told officials that he isolated himself in his Harlem apartment — and didn’t admit he rode the subways, dined out and went bowling until cops looked at his MetroCard the sources said.

I literally have no position whatsoever on quarantines.  I don’t know if they are needed, constitutional, fascist or ridiculous.  I’m also not going to research it, because I suspect this topic de jure will be gone by the time I get back from my upcoming vacation.  But, I also think that this guy, and the lady doctor in Maine (my home state) are being pretty selfish.  You want me to be held aside, alone for 21 days?  You’ll bring me food, I’ll have cable TV, and I can sleep as much as I want?  Dude, sign me up.

Second, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has decided to quarantine the troops when they get back from West Africa:

A 21-day quarantine for all military personnel serving in Ebola stricken areas of West Africa was approved by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday.

The quarantine was pushed for by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said.  Initially the measure will apply to all personnel leaving the West Africa area. But Hagel said the policy will be reviewed within 45 days.

The policy creates a separate set of rules for military members than what the White House has pushed for civilian health care workers. President Obama has argued that civilian volunteer health workers returning from aid trips to Africa should not be quarantined and the White House has urged states not to impose their own quarantine policies. Science, Obama has said, does not support the need for a quarantines.

So there’s the meat and potatoes (an extra “e” for Dan Quayle) of it.  Now the quote:

Q    Are you concerned, sir, that there might be some confusion between the quarantine rules used by the military and used by health care workers and by some states?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the military is a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients. Second of all, they are not there voluntarily, it’s part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the Commander-in-Chief.  So we don't expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.  They are already, by definition, if they're in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.

When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth, to go over there because they have a very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job, we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease, but we don't want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices.  Because if we do, then we’re just putting another barrier on somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf. And that's not something that I think any of us should want to see happen.

There is so much in there it would take me a generation or two to unpack it all.  The first sentence alone makes no sense logically. So the troops will not be treating patients, but they are going to be subject to more rigid restraints?  That’s like saying a motorcycle is more dangerous than a Big Wheel, which is why you should always wear a helmet while riding a Big Wheel.   Huh?

The rest of the paragraph makes more sense I suppose.  When you do join, you understand you have fewer rights.  That much is obvious to anyone that has joined.  But from a public health standpoint, it isn’t even the slightest bit relevant.  If this whole policy deals with the threat of Ebola to every day Americans, how does the circumscribed nature of military service add to the discussion?  Huh?

The first sentence of the second paragraph is so long I get lost reading it.  Presumably it is referring to the health people (nurses and doctors) volunteering overseas.  But again, how is this different than the people in the military?  Military people (believe it or not) ALSO have families, also have loved ones, also have difficult jobs, and we should decide for them based on “science and best practices” as opposed to the random selection by a magic 8-ball or a gorilla who can also pick Super Bowl winners.  Again, it doesn’t really differentiate which is what the question was about.  So again, huh?

The penultimate sentence though is the one that really (judging by my emails) has people angered.  Again the specific question dealt with the differing ways we are dealing with civilians and military.  So this sentence, “somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf” directed ONLY at the doctors, to differentiate them from service-members seems at first blush to be a complete insult.  It’s really hard to interpret that sentence differently when given the context of the question.

I don’t know, maybe they were just free-wheeling an answer on the spot, and it was less that articulate.  Lord knows I’ve said some dumb things in responses to questions.  (Just ask my wife.)  But this whole thing just seems insulting to me, and I don’t have a position on quarantines in general.  But to differentiate between doctors who in their benevolence are dealing specifically with Ebola victims, from service-members who put their lives on the line, and then somehow create a policy that weighs safety with the value of the service, and deciding it favors doctors doesn’t make sense to me.

What do you guys think?

Posted in the burner | 20 comments
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"...go over there because they have a very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job"

Only dealing with the doctors also rubbed me the wrong way.

That entire second paragraph was a list of insults/pretzel logic trying to justify a policy.

What I think the gov wants is for the military and states to follow to the letter the CDC guidelines while they can claim they "left it up to the states/military"

Despite the fact that the CDC put out a warning on the disease relating to sneezing? The military conservative approach to dealing with this is better for all of us. If they are wrong, no big problem. If they were right and everyone followed the pap the CDC and administration have been putting out, 3/4 of the world population could literally die.

So what else is new?

I would concur that the response was impromptu and not well thought out. The value of long and candid answers is what they tell you about that persons real positions on certain topics. In this case the value of uniformed service or lack of therein.

I completely understand, its another double standard with the military once more taking the hit from our "Commander in Chief"??? If you have a policy for one, it should be for all. And since when are military members without families?? After 10+ years of war doesn't he think that military members have been away enough --- or doesn't he care?

I have been saying the same thing for days.....why is the military considered different and needs to be quarantined for 21 days while the present administration says no problem with nurses, etc. I just don't get the disconnect.

Sounds like Alfred E. Neuman type logic. Hey, what's the problem......

The American Legion has been steadily moving to the far right. The Burn Pit leads the way for the more right wing population of The American Legion to espouse their views against the current administration. MOTHAX start's the article with "I generally try to avoid any topic about the president, because damn near everyone out there either hates the man reflexively, or sort of worships him." In this he is misleading. All the interpretation of the quote are aimed at showing how ignorant/unaware/uncaring the President is and is framed in a way to lead the reader to the conclusion that he hates the military. Read any of the articles in the Burn Pit and you see the same trend. The American Legion is constantly battling and working harder and harder to increase membership. As a Post Commander I can see how the slant put on any issue by the American Legion to appease the Right Wing, in the hope they keep military budgets high, does more harm than good. I have had returning Afghanistan Vets tell me they are not interested in the Legion as it is nothing more than an arm of the Republicans in Congress and the Senate. If we are going to continue to grow the American Legion membership and attract the younger Vets into our great organization, we are going to have to take a more centered approach and use our strength instead of pandering to the right.

You are a post commander? How can you make comments like yours and be a post commander. Obviously you have a deep rooted prejudice against the American Legion, which is refelcted by your comments. You should do us all a favor and resign. If you feel that the American Legion puts a "slant on any issue..... to appease the Right Wing" then leave post haste. Your comments show that you must be heavily leaning to the liberal left. The OIF and OEF vets that I talked to are saying that the POTUS and his puppet underlings are the ones who are disregarding the sacrifices of the military. POTUS and his "yes" people are trying hard to eliminate hard fought for benefits from the military and use the militray as scapegoats for the budget ills and deficit problems. The Ebola crisis is just another example of POTUS's disregard and disrespect for the military. Our troops are jsut as important as those doctors, nurses, and other volunteers going to Africa. The troops deserve the same consideration as those who wantingly put themselves in harms way and then the rest of of our country in danger because it is an inconvience or unconstitutional wrong to put them into quaranteen. POTUS is criminally wrong for what he is doing to our troops, but you seem to be in favor of that.

And just for the record I believe that Cheney, Rumsfeld(sic), and Rice are criminally liable for starting a war based on bogus intel that they knew was bogus. However, the current POTUS is back dooring the military and tearing it down.

Sorry Othello, if you were the commander of my American Legion post with your comments you wouldn't be one for long.

Get this, if you can comprehend it. I support our men and women in uniform, not the political powers that be in charge of them. I have had returning Afghanistan Vets tell me they wonder why the American Legion isn't more vocal in their disapproval of how the current administration AND Congress view them and their importance. Funny, our post has plenty of younger Vets probably because we do less carping and take more physical action than other posts. It's what you do for other people that grows your post, not sitting around reliving war histories that probably didn't happen over a round of cheap drinks at the bar all day and well into the evening.

Those Doctors returning from ebola duty should be given a welcome home from the president and his family and a tour of the white house. If they are not showing any symptoms, this would also be a nice incentive for any doctor to volunteer for service.

This President is very simply anti all things military. I'm so glad to be retired. My support to all of our deployed military, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.

The President failed to give a coherent answer to a specific question. He denigrated those of us who serve this nation in the process of giving that answer.

As the President is the leader of his party, this gives me yet another reason for voting the way I feel I need to vote on November 4th.

Our troops did not "volunteer" to go to West Africa. They were told to go there. Those who volunteer are responsible for their decisions. Those who are told to serve rely on our leaders to care what happens to them.

The President again is confuser and confounder more than commander-in-chief.

Our men and women serving our nation without consideration to themselves would place themselves in quarantine to safe guard their families and country. It is our nation placing our service members in harms way with (4) hours of training in EBOLA protection and its is our services members who honor country that take on this duty. God Bless our Troops.

I just joined the AL. I served in the Army National Guard from 1 Mar 74 to 1985. I am a member of another organization but stopped attending years ago because of the same type of comments I am reading here. I gave up drinking, do not play bingo, have no trust left in the beltway government, believe that our men and women in uniform are being abused by too many deployments caused by ineffective leadership during the last 45 years. Vietnam became another Korea. Two Gulf wars later and the only people who know what they are doing is the government military contractors who make money off of our deployments. And now we find out about chemical weapons in Iraq in 2008? I will remain a member as long as can make a difference in the lives of veterans.

The Presidents comments reflect the "ME" generations belief that the members of the military are expendable. They feel no obligation to this country nor would they defend it should that become necessary. They consider themselves part of an upper crust elite that are above the fray. Anything that interferes with their swinging life style is supposed to be fixed by the Government, often the Military. There is no surprise here except that he would actually say it.

I believe that ANYONE who has served in any Ebola stricken area should consider it their duty to add the three weeks of quarantine to their tour of duty. It seems not only reasonable (considering the incubation time of the disease has been shown - by science - to be 21 days) and also the responsible thing to do to protect the individual's own families as well as the general public.
Of ALL the people who should understand this best are the health care workers - doctors and nurses. It is appalling to me to hear about the nurse from Maine who displays such selfishness and cannot see the benefit to public health and confidence if she just sets a positive example and follows the very reasonable guidelines without acting like a child. I guess it will be up to the military to set the example for precautionary quarantine.
Our government and authorities associated with the CDC and the press certainly do not make things any easier with all the conflicting information they give the American people. We are told repeatedly that Ebola only spreads through contact with infected fluids. They say it is NOT spread by airborne means (what about infected vapors from a cough?) In all the commercial travel I have done, I cannot recall ever coming in contact with another person's body fluids and YET authorities are tracking down all passengers of flights or subways that carried an infected person. If that is a reasonable precaution to take then we should be told the REAL reasons for measures taken and the REAL threats that exist. Perhaps there is more justification than is being let on for having the 21 day quarantine.
It is apparent that even the experts don't have their facts straight and they admit being on a learning curve. I conclude that the quarantine rule seems like a very reasonable precaution, ESPECIALLY for doctors and nurses who are closest to the disease and have the highest potential of spreading it. As a matter of their profession, they should be more than willing to abide by the guidelines along with everyone else subject to the same.

First I want to say that I support President Obama he is doing a damn fine job fixing everything Bush wrecked. However in this case I think he is making a mistake not placing every single person coming in from that part of Africa in quarantine. That Nurse in Maine is a selfish witch with a capital B.

Most people are missing the too important points here
1) Civilian doctors, nurses etc volunteering to go to Africa to treat Ebola patients are doing it on vacation, leave of absence etc, often for short periods of time as that is all they have. To expect them to spend another 21 days off the job w/o pay is a heavy penalty and would cut the number of volunteers drastically. The military being kept isolated for 21 days is a pain but basically just another form of duty for which their pay is continued.
2) The best place to stop Ebola is in Africa and we need to do what we can to help do just that.

This sort of statement is simply more of the same nonsense that we have been listening to for the past 6 years. Other than the military aspect of combat and support, I fail to see the major difference between a volunteer force of Doctors Without Borders and a volunteer military or security force, yet Obama insists upon minimizing the need, the presence and the effectiveness of the US military, and only the US military, in his frequent comments.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.