Demonstration Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans to Serve in the Military
Frequently asked Questions and Answers
-Why can’t deaf and hard of hearing Americans get a waiver? What is the Department of Defense’s reasoning?
According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, “The Services grant waivers to medical standards on a case-by-case basis based on Service needs. Over the last 5 years, the Services have recruited on average about 600 individuals per year with some minor hearing degradation, however, none were deaf. Individuals not qualified for military service are encouraged to serve as valuable members of the national security team in either civilian or contract positions.
Current accession criteria revised in 2011 are based on Service readiness needs and are designed to ensure that those individuals accepted are “qualified, effective, and able-bodied persons” who are capable of successfully performing military duties. An important objective of this thorough applicant screening is to ensure that persons accepted for the military are physically and psychologically qualified to withstand isolation and rigors of military duty. This policy exists to protect both the individuals concerned as well as members of their units. A change of medical standards to include the disabled in military service would increase the pool of non-deployable Service members at a time when the Services are pushing to minimize the size of that population in a period of dramatic downsizing.”
-Don’t Soldiers’ ability to hear and communicate effectively increase their survivability and lethality? Don’t they need to be able to hear enemy movement, in the dark, in all directions, and around obstacles that block your view, locate snipers, and identify enemy weapons?
The demonstration program currently focuses on the US Air Force. The program will help determine what kind of unique benefits and which military occupational specialties are best suited and how deaf and hard of hearing individuals can best operate in those specialties. Ultimately, the program will help determine in placing qualified deaf and hard of hearing individuals into the most appropriate settings and occupations.
-Don’t Soldiers need good hearing to understand radio messages and other communications?
There are other modes of communication as well such as emailing, texting, instant messaging, video phones, lip reading, and sign language. Furthermore, some sign language perks can be found in situations where there is noisy environment such helicopters or in situations where sounds do not exist such as underwater. Again, the program will help determine which and how deaf and hard of hearing individuals will operate in locations that are primarily non-combat or where those modes of communications are more realistic to military operations.
-So, can deaf and hard of hearing people be deployed? Or, will they increase the pool of non-deployable Service members?
The Department of Defense has deployed deaf and hard of hearing civilian employees overseas where they have worked on military bases with other military personnel, so there is already precedence. The demonstration will identify specialties in a manner similar to what the Defense Department has done with civilians. There are over 40 or so military bases around the world and deaf and hard of hearing personnel can be deployed to wherever their skills and qualifications are needed.
-Isn’t the military downsizing?
The military is downsizing today, but the demonstration program is not asking to replace current military personnel, rather it is a demonstration program so that the Department of Defense can gather and use the data for its future.
-Will the deaf and hard of hearing personnel need interpreters with them at all times?
The Federal government and the Department of Defense, recognizing the value of deaf and hard of hearing civilian employees, has developed policies and processes to provide support services for them. In a nutshell, they do not require interpreters to be at their side 24/7. Usually, they need interpreters for training, meetings, and ceremonies; otherwise there are a plethora of options for the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate in a one to one or in small group situations.
-Isn’t it such a bad timing because of the sequestration? How much does it cost to have interpreters?
There will be support services costs and the demonstration program will help determine what and how much they are. The costs are expected to be minimal with regards to the costs of major weapons systems and the opportunity to access a population heretofore excluded. Furthermore, there is already precedence considering that the Department of Defense provides interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing civilian employees and the military uses interpreters or translators for communications with the local native people in other countries. It is deemed to be a cost acceptable to acquire and sustain individuals with the needed skills.
-What about people with other disabilities? If we have deaf and hard of hearing people in the military, will we have to let in people with other disabilities?
We are not focusing nor are we experts on other disabilities, but the military does have amputees and other disabilities who are currently serving and on Active duty.
-How will the demonstration program select the deaf and hard of hearing participants?
- 1864 and H.R. 5296 explain the selection process – you can see the text of S. 1864 at: https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/1864/text
-Why are we having the demonstration program with the Air Force? Why not the Army or the Navy?
Per Senator Harkin and Congressman Takano’s research, it was felt that the Air Force offered the best place for the demonstration program to be based within.
-When will the Senate and the House vote on the bills?
We do not know as it depends on whether Congress decides to bring the bills to the floor for a vote. That is why we are doing the rally on Friday September 12, 2014 to urge Congress members to make this issue a top priority. We want the rally to raise awareness and garner support for the demonstration program to be marked up in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2016) which takes place next spring of 2015.
-What is the number one benefit deaf and hard of hearing Americans can provide to our armed forces?
Potential outcomes of the demonstration program could include ways to assist the military on force attrition, replacement, and retention.
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