If you live in a town with a military base, you probably have a DoD military hospital there. It’s much harder to investigate problems with active duty soldiers. The soldiers face reprisals. Many are still hoping to get back into the military. There is a culture of not talking to outsiders. Military commanders have even on occasion issued orders forbidding doctors from talking to the media.
How to get around this? A couple of ideas:
- Military spouses
Spouses are often the best single source of information because they don’t operate under the same restrictions as soldiers, but also because this is an expected role of a military spouse.
- Local veterans groups
Confusing, yes. But local veterans service organizations – Veterans for Common Sense, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – all have contacts into the active DoD community that can help
- Get on the base
Once you get one soldier or family to invite you on the base, you should be able to access other families as well. It worked well for me to ask a couple of families to come over at once to share their stories.
- Freedom of Information Act
FOIAs can be useful but they will take time. The quickest that I have ever received a FOIA from a medical command is six months. This is simply a fact of life.A few tricks can make the process easier. First, engage the FOIA officer. Call the officer, talk to her, let her know what you are doing. Sometimes, FOIA officers can be very helpful in making sure your request is answered, and can even help steer you toward other helpful records.You will find that some agencies better than others. TRICARE’s FOIA system is kind of a black hole. It will take months to process requests. The Army’s Medical Command’s FOIA office has proven very helpful. (VA FOIA; DoD FOIA; Tricare FOIA).The best tactic is to try to avoid FOIA if possible. Convince your source or the public affairs officer to provide the documents. Make the argument that you will probably get them via FOIA anyway, but producing the documents now will save everyone time and money.
- And, of course, social media
Yes, soldiers are avid users of Facebook, Twitter and even MySpace, still. Facebook can be astonishingly valuable source of information since you can go back through years of posts and create a near contemporaneous account of what happened to a particular service member. Certain hashtags on Twitter are also quite good for keeping up with military happenings: #milhealth, #TBI, #PTSD.