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Spike in misconduct cases puts Army medics under scrutiny

Oct. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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In the past three months, at least 22 combat medics have been investigated for misconduct including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and sexual harassment or assault.

In the past three months, at least 22 combat medics have been investigated for misconduct including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and sexual harassment or assault.

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In the past three months, at least 22 combat medics have been investigated for misconduct including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and sexual harassment or assault.

And officials fear that for every reported incident, five go unreported.

This recent spike in cases has prompted the Army Emergency Medical Services Programs Management Division to conduct investigations on all new medics and issue an All-Army Activities message requiring commanders to report any combat medic charged with or convicted of misconduct.

“I don’t want a pedophile administering care to you,” said James Aplin, chief of the Army EMS Programs Management Division at the Army Medical Department Center and School.

With about 40,000 soldiers, combat medics (68W) make up the second-largest military occupational specialty in the Army. Only infantry has more people.

It also is the only enlisted MOS that requires soldiers to earn and maintain a national certification. Without emergency medical technician certification, administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, a soldier cannot be a combat medic.

“Combat medic skills are not a fire-and-forget weapon,” Aplin said. “They must validate their skills once a year and recertify with the national registry every two years.”

Every year, about half of the combat medic force — 18,000 to 19,000 soldiers — is up for recertification with the NREMT.

Medics convicted of criminal misconduct where the maximum punishment is confinement for one year or longer are disqualified from keeping their EMT certification, a requirement that was introduced in the Army in 2002.

They also likely will be separated from the Army, said Pat Gage, the criminal background branch lead at the Army EMS Programs Management Division.

“If a soldier is found guilty, we revoke their license,” Aplin said.

In some cases, this punishment may seem harsh, especially if a soldier is sentenced to confinement and his or her certification would lapse anyway, Gage said.

But if the certification is not revoked, that soldier’s eligibility remains in place, and he can be recertified, Gage said.

This becomes an issue when a former soldier tries to fool a civilian fire or EMS department that he or she has a clean criminal record and bypass the NREMT’s restrictions, Aplin said.

“We all answer to the NREMT,” he said. “It boils down to public trust, and we cannot violate that.”

Since 2008, when the criminal background checks division was stood up, the Army has denied or revoked 415 certifications, Aplin said.

When new soldiers arrive at combat medic training, an eight-week course, they fill out a criminal background check form, Gage said.

Gage and his team check every soldier, regardless of what’s on the form, against the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System. That’s about 400 soldiers every two weeks.

They also will check the soldier’s Standard Form 86, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which is filled out during the enlistment process.

If a soldier’s information doesn’t match or add up, the team will check with the clerk of court in the soldier’s home county, Gage said.

Recently, they uncovered a soldier who had a warrant out for his arrest for felony theft. This soldier had committed the alleged crime after completing the SF-86 but before he arrived at medic training, and hoped officials wouldn’t find out about the warrant, Gage said.

Once the Army clears a soldier to complete the eight-week medic course, he undergoes another check with the NREMT before he is allowed to take the EMT exam, Gage said.

These checks are necessary, Gage said.

“Nobody wants big brother in their business, and I can understand why, but the system isn’t as thorough as we think it is,” he said.

Of the 22 combat medic cases Gage and his team have investigated in the last three months, 12 cases have been closed. The soldier either wasn’t charged, or the case was adjudicated.

So far, three medics have had their certifications revoked, Gage said.

Most of the offenses are related to domestic violence, drunk driving, drug abuse and sexual assault or harassment, but there also have been more than six homicides in the past three years, he said.

Gage said that although these trends mirror what happens in society, he suspects repeated deployments or post-traumatic stress may be factors in some of the cases.

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