Monday, October 20, 2014

His Brillant, Abbreviated Career

Joe Biden has always liked to brag about his son, Beau, who has been a JAG in the Delaware National Guard since 2003.  The younger Biden, who also serves as the state's attorney general, deployed to Iraq for a year in 2008-2009, and remains active in the guard, despite suffering a mild stroke in 2010, and undergoing treatment for a brain tumor last year.

By all accounts, Beau Biden has served honorably, and military service figures prominently in his political resume.  A run for governor is reportedly in the works, and Beau Biden may have ambitions at the national level as well.

Against that backdrop, Vice-President's youngest son, Hunter, embarked on his own military career a couple of years ago.  It was announced in 2012 that Hunter Biden would receive a direct commission in the Naval Reserve as a public affairs officer at the age of 44.

As anyone who has served in the armed forces will tell you, direct commissions are exceedingly rare, typically granted to individuals with needed skills (such as physicians), or those with the right connections.  Readers can decide which category Mr. Biden fell into; as a lawyer with a background as a lobbyist and businessman, he certainly did not have the media background typically sought in public affairs billets.  But the Navy also saw certain advantages in having the Vice-President's son in his ranks, so Hunter Biden was commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve in May 2013.  Because he was over 40 at the time, Mr. Biden required an age waiver, but with his family ties, that was not a problem.

Then, almost as soon as it began, Hunter Biden's Navy career came to a screeching halt.  And thanks to The Wall Street Journal, we know why: in June of last year, reporting to his reserve unit for the first time, Mr. Biden flunked the "whizz quiz:"

Vice President Joe Biden ’s son Hunter was discharged from the Navy Reserve this year after testing positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the matter.

Hunter Biden, a lawyer by training who is now a managing partner at an investment company, had been commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve, a part-time position. But after failing a drug test last year, his brief military career ended.


Mr. Biden was commissioned as an ensign on May 7, 2013, and assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element East in Norfolk, Va., a reserve unit, according to the Navy. In June 2013, after reporting to his unit in Norfolk, he was given a drug test, which turned up positive for cocaine, according to people familiar with the situation. Mr. Biden was discharged in February, the Navy said.

Mr. Biden said in a statement that it was “the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”

The Navy won't say what type of discharge Hunter Biden received (citing privacy regulations), but as the WSJ notes, military members who fail drug tests often receive an "other than honorable" or "general" discharge.   Many are also subjected to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but since Biden was newly-commissioned--and reporting to this first drill session--the Navy opted to discharge him in February of this year.  

The service has not disclosed what Biden did between the failed drug test and his discharge date, or if he received pay as a reservist during that period.  Typically, military members receive full compensation until the point they are convicted or discharged from the service.  Pay for reservists is based on attending prescribed, weekend drills and a two-week duty period sometime during the year.  With administrative action pending, it is unclear if Hunter Biden participated in any reserve activities after the failed drug test.  

Equally curious is Mr. Biden's discharge date.  According to the WSJ, he was finally mustered out in February of this year, roughly nine months after his commissioning.  True, it takes a while to get rid of any service member who flunks a urinalysis test, but process seems to have dragged on for Beau Biden--a bit odd, considering his previous lack of military service.  Someone might ask his former unit about the average discharge time for other sailors who test positive for drugs. 

The good news is that Biden's short and undistinguished military career does not qualify him (as far as we can tell) for any veteran's benefits.  Not that we'd expect to see Beau Biden in line at the local veteran's administration clinic, or applying for a VA home loan.  It seems rather obvious that his late entry into the military was a political calculation.  Realizing that Beau Biden's stint in the National Guard has been a resume-enhancer, his brother decided to fill the "military service" square, with an eye towards a future campaign. 

Unfortunately, he didn't pay attention during his in-processing, when the Navy reminded new sailors that a random drug test could come at any time.  And, Mr. Biden was apparently unaware that traces of cocaine leave your system within 72 hours after use--though THC in marijuana can be detected for up to 30 days.  That means Hunter Biden was snorting up only a day or so before his first drill weekend in Norfolk and that speaks volumes about his character (or lack thereof).  

Looks like the Navy's drug testing program did everyone a public service, identifying a dilettante reservist who was unworthy of the commission he held.  Maybe that unit in Norfolk can find someone with a media or public relations background who takes the notion of military service seriously, and doesn't believe the rules apply to everyone else.  We'd be willing to be there's a mid-level petty officer or Chief with those credentials who might have been passed over in favor of Hunter Biden.  Hopefully, more deserving applicants will now get a shot.       



1 comment:

Martin said...

I used to work for a public transit authority, and around 25-30 years ago, random drug testing was mandated, as well as a drug screen for all job applicants and for people coming back from certain disciplinary actions. Even the "random" screen was not a "surprise" screen... people were picked at random but given several days' notice of where and when they would give their sample (this advance notice was over the objections of management).

Somewhat to the surprise of some of the more naïve management people, the failure (positive) rate tended to be around 10-20%. The exec who oversaw the program said it really wasn't a drug screening program, it was an intelligence test