Goverment Approved Body Armor: Catch 22?

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A week ago, SFTT received a request from a concerned parent (whose son is expected to deploy shortly to Afghanistan) inquiring whether a service member is obligated to wear “US government approved” equipment or is free to use protective gear and combat equipment purchased from other  firms.

The question is in response to numerous reports from the field that suggest that “non-authorized” equipment may be confiscated and, in fact, life and heath insurance benefits may be forfeited if a  service member is wounded or killed wearing “non-approved” gear.   While SFTT has found no written evidence to indicate that this is a standing order, a recently-retired officer confirmed that he has always operated under the assumption that service members may only carry or wear “government approved” equipment.

This issue surfaced a few years ago when service members deploying to Iraq wished to wear Dragon Skin body armor rather than the “government approved” Interceptor Body Armor (IBA).    Specifically, reports circulated that military men and women would be required to pay for his or her own medical expenses and recovery costs for any wounds or injuries suffered while wearing unapproved or disallowed body armor.

Also,  more pervasive reports suggest that service members who sought to wear “non-authorized” body armor and protective gear were advised by Army officers that their Service Group Life Insurance (SGLI) would be denied if troops wearing Dragon Skin body armor were killed in combat.

On behalf of the parents of one of his constituents, Congressman Mike Ross of the Fourth District of Arkansas, wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army in August, 2007  inquiring into these allegations.  In a letter dated September 10, 2007 Mr. Pete Geren, the Secretary of the Army responded that the “Department of Defense and Department of the Army have no policy that denies medical or insurance benefits to soldiers injured or killed wearing unapproved body armor.”  Copies of these letters may be downloaded from the SFTT website.  Read Representative Mike Ross’s 2007 letter and Army Secretary Pete Geren’s response.

While one might think that Secretary Geren’s letter should have put an end to these rumors, he goes on to state in his letter that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In effect, while there is no policy denying medical or death benefits to non-conforming service members it is simply not allowed to wear unauthorized or unapproved protective gear.  Call it Catch 22, Beltway Spin or the E-Ring two-step, but it seems to me that Secretary Geren’s response  is akin to saying  “it’s the Army way or the highway.”

Despite Secretary Geren’s strong endorsement of the Interceptor Body Armor system and insistence that “every Soldier . . . is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment” we know of many instances where “non-authorized” body armor is used by officers and enlisted personnel because they believe it provides better protection.  Furthermore, if the IBA system is so darn good, why did the GAO (“Government Accountability Office”)  issue a devastating report last fall which calls into question the Army test procedures and contract awards for body armor?  Similarly, why is the Defense Department fighting tooth-and-nail to withhold autopsy results which suggest that fatalities may have been caused by defective body armor plates?

Congressman Mike Ross has recently requested an updated position on this issue from the Department of Defense.  Personally, I believe that their response will be much the same.  For concerned parents and loved ones of men and women serving in combat, this summary of the government’s official position is hardly reassuring.

If you find the double-talk misleading and harmful write your Congressperson and State Senator and join hundreds of other SFTT Members searching for the Truth to make sure that our troops have the best body armor and protective gear possible.  Frankly, Secretary Geren’s endorsement of the IBA system is not compelling.

Richard W. May

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