Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Metzger File, Part II

We've been following the strange case of Major Jill Metzger, the Air Force personnel officer who went missing in Kyrgyzstan last year, touching off an international incident. As you'll recall, Metzger disappeared during a trip to a shopping mall near Bishek, Kyrgyzstan last September 5th, then resurfaced three days later, claiming that she had been abducted. Metzger was on a temporary duty assignment at Manas AB (near Bishek) at the time of the incident.

As we noted last week, there are serious questions about the alleged "kidnapping" of Major Metzger. Kyrgyz authorities told Newsday that surveillance video from the mall does not support the Air Force officer's claims, and suggested that she may have orchestrated her own disappearance. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) and federal law enforcement officials have also been investigating, and at least one U.S. official expressed similar doubts, telling Fox News that her story "doesn't add up." Final reports on the episode are pending.

But the latest--and perhaps strangest--twist in this affair concerns Metzger's status in the U.S. Air Force. Last week, the website reported (in a copyright article) that Major Metzger would be medically retired in early July, as a result of the trauma she suffered in Kyrgyzstan. The story changed again a couple of days later, when Metzger's mother told the Associated Press that her daughter was being granted an 18-month "leave of absence" to spend time with her Air Force husband, whom she married just before that deployment to Kyrgyzstan. Trouble is, there are (apparently) no provisions for a "leave of absence" under Air Force personnel regulations.

The latest update on Major Metzger's status can be found in the current issue of Air Force Times. In an interview with the publication, Metzger's mother reported that her daughter will be going on 18 months' of medical leave in early July, to spend time with her husband and "just be a human being again." The leave period will also give her time to decide whether to continue her Air Force career, according to Mrs. Metzger.

The reported change in duty status is significant, since medical leave would allow Metzger to draw full pay and benefits over the next 18 months. Medical leave is normally granted for recovery from serious illnesses and other conditions, and must be approved by medical authorities.

Sources we spoke with said that 18 months of medical leave is virtually unheard of, particularly in cases where the military member did not suffer serious physical injuries. By comparison, returning POWs from North Vietnam received an average of six months of medical leave, after enduring psychological and physical torture that was (arguably) far worse that Metzger endured during her three days of alleged captivity.

But there may be another explanation for Metzger's changing duty status. As an Air Force administrative officer told, Major Metzger can't be retired if she's the subject of an on-going investigation. Placing her on medical leave would allow the inquiries to continue, while removing her from active duty, and satisfying her "humanitarian" concerns.

A spokesman at Moody AFB, where Major Metzger is stationed, refused to comment on the reported medical leave, citing Privacy Act restrictions. Previously, Moody public affairs officers noted that Metzger was being "reintegrated" to her military duties. But our sources at the base reported that the Major seemed to be manning a desk, and little else:

"To be honest, we hardly ever see her. She is never at our PT formations in the morning and she does not attend any of the staff meetings. Everything is low-key around here and I don't hear anything at all. There was a 1st Lt running the Manpower shop, but he has PCSed. There is a MSgt running the shop...again, she is there but not playing an active role at all. I do see her from time to time with her running gear on, so she is still staying in shape."

In her conversation with Air Force Times, Mrs. Metzger expressed frustration at the service's inability to station her daughter and son-in-law together. Major Metzger is married to Air Force Captain Joshua Mayo, who is now stationed at Tyndall AFB, Florida, 193 miles away. Mrs. Metzger told the Times that her family is pleased with the Air Force's decision to grant medical leave, and allow the couple to be together.

Major Metzger hasn't spoken with the media since her return from Kyrgyzstan, and most of the information regarding her duty status has come from her mother. Since Mrs. Metzger (apparently) never served in the military, there is the possibility that she confused terminology in stating that her daughter had been given a leave of absence, rather than medical leave. However, her husband is a retired Air Force Colonel; we can only assume that he's familiar with categories of military duty, and could have helped her explain their daughter's status.

On the other hand, three conflicting stories about Major Metzger's duty status--in a two-week period--suggest that her disposition has been a "work in progress" for Air Force leadership. And unfortunately, that only makes the situation worse. At a time when hundreds of wounded Iraq and Afghan veterans are fighting for disability benefits, word that Metzger would receive a pension produced outrage in the ranks, and a change in her duty status from "retiring" to "leave of absence." Now, claims that she will receive an exceptionally generous medical leave--for a three-day hostage "ordeal" that has never been proved--will spark similar outcries.

We've long been a critic of Congressional micro-management of military affairs. But in this case, we'll make an exception. There's something fishy about the Metzger case, and too many unanswered questions. Both the Senate and House Armed Services committee have the right to ask the Air Force about Major Metzger's condition, and how she received such a generous medical leave.

Until the Air Force and Justice Departments release their final reports, we won't know what happened in Kyrgyzstan last year. If those events triggered a legitimate condition (say, PTSD) that prevents Major Metzger from performing her duties, then she should be referred to a suitable military or civilian treatment facility, and a medical evaluation board to determine her future status. But if she's able to work--as her return and "re-integration at Moody seem to suggest--then Major Metzger should remain in uniform, and fulfill her Air Force commitments.


ADDENDUM: Mrs. Metzger's claims about the "separation" of her daughter and son-in-law strike us as a bit bogus. We've known plenty of geographically-separated couples in the Air Force (and other services). As we learned on Day One of basic training (and later, at OTS), there is no guarantee that married military personnel will always be stationed together. At the time of their marriage, Captain Mayo was reportedly stationed in Colorado; he has since re-located to Florida. Based on our experience, it appears as though the Air Force made an effort to get them closer geographically, despite the demands of an on-going war, and limited funds for permanent-change-of station (PCS) moves.


G Man said...

Maybe the host country somehow played a part in her disappearance, and now she's being "rewarded" by a medical leave of absence & being allowed to do what she wants to avoid another international incident (her spilling the beans). I've only seen pandering like this when the word from the top is to leave someone alone. And usually, that someone has something on the guy at the top.

billmill said...

Nothing surprises me anymore in regards to the AF covering some individuals A$$.
As a retired SNCO the more I read on this issue’s it is readily apparent that the Major is getting preferential treatment due probably to not only her father connections and her previous notoriety as a marathon runner. What strikes me as strange is the lack of information on her alleged disappearance last year. You can’t tell me that the OSI and other investigative services were not all over her disappearance. If it turns out to be all a fabrication then an Article 32 hearing should be called and Court Martial proceedings should be initiated.
It’s to bad the way some cases are handled. This case is as bad as the F-15 flight control crash and subsequent investigation that occurred In USAFE back in the 90’s. In that one the investigating authority screwed around so long to ensure that the man who died in the crash was not in the least culpable in the accident that one of the accused NCO’s committed suicide at the Bitburg hunting club. The other NCO if I remember correctly ended up getting a discharge soon after this occurred.

johca said...

1.3. Eligibility for Disability Evaluation. HQ AFPC/DPPD determines eligibility for disability processing. The mere presence of a physical defect or condition does not qualify a member for disability retirement or discharge. The physical defect or conditions must render the member unfit for duty. Disability evaluation begins only when examination, treatment, hospitalization, or substandard performance result in referral to a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB). Members not eligible for disability processing

1.3.1. Members Under Court-Martial (CM) Charges. Those charged with one or more offenses that could result in dismissal or punitive discharge, and those convicted and sentenced to dismissal or punitive discharge, may not undergo disability evaluation, unless the case fits one of the following exceptions: Question of Mental Capacity or Responsibility. When a medical board questions a member's mental capacity or responsibility, the commander exercising CM jurisdiction decides whether to proceed with CM or dismiss, withdraw, or hold the charges in abeyance until completion of the disability evaluation. The commander sends a copy of the decision to withdraw or dismiss CM to HQ AFPC/DPPD, along with the mental inquiry report and other required records listed in AFI 48-123, Medical Examination and Medical Standards. Member Whose Sentence to Dismissal or Punitive Discharge is Suspended. Action to vacate the suspension stops disability evaluation.

1.6. Benefits. The Air Force disability system will not retain, retire, or discharge a member for disability solely to increase Air Force retirement or discharge benefits.

1.7. Disability Ratings. By law, (10 U.S.C., chapter 61), the Air Force assigns ratings from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VAs') Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) and implementation guidance contained in DoDI 1332.39. (EXCEPTION: Reserve and ANG fitness/unfitness determinations as described in Chapter 8.)

1.9. Air Force and VA Ratings. The VA administers its program under Title 38, U.S.C.; the Air Force under Title 10. Although both use the VASRD in assessing disability ratings, a prime difference between the two systems is that the VA may rate any service-connected condition without regard to fitness, whereas the Air Force may rate only those conditions which make a member unfit for continued military service (see paragraph A2.21.).

3.20. Line of Duty (LOD) Determinations. Chapter 61, 10 U.S.C., requires a line of duty determination for each unfitting defect or condition. Specifically, for compensability purposes the PEB must know whether or not the member incurred the disability as the result of his or her intentional misconduct or during a period of unauthorized absence.

3.20.1. Evidence in Support of LODs. This evidence may include, but is not limited to, medical documentation, documents verifying a period of unauthorized absence, or an LOD determination made under AFI 36-2910.

3.20.2. PEB Action on LOD Determinations. LOD determinations made under provisions of AFI 36-2910 are material evidence considered by the PEB. The PEB cannot properly adjudicate a case until the completed LOD determination, if required, is in the case file. (NOTE: Entries on AF Form 618 constitute administrative LOD determinations.) The PEB will direct the referring medical facility to begin an LOD determination under AFI 36-2910 before continuing with the evaluation process when:

3.20.3. There is reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the administrative LOD determination as shown on the AF Form 618; and

3.20.4. There is no existing informal or formal LOD determination in the member's case file; and

3.20.5. There is insufficient evidence from which the PEB may make its own independent LOD determination.

3.21. Absence Without Leave (AWOL). A member who incurs an unfitting defect or condition during a period of unauthorized absence or AWOL is not entitled to disability benefits for that defect or condition under 10 U.S.C., chapter 61. In cases involving a member who was AWOL, the record must contain enough evidence to support a finding that the member incurred the disability during a period of unauthorized absence. In addition to pertinent medical records, supporting evidence may include court martial orders, duty status reports, line of duty reports, or other documents that verify the exact period of unauthorized absence.

3.24.1. Use of the TDRL. When the PEB finds a disability may be permanent in character, but not stable in degree, and the member otherwise qualifies for disability retirement, the Air Force places the member on the TDRL. The TDRL is a way to further observe unfit members whose disability has not stabilized and for whom the PEB cannot accurately assess the degree of severity, percent of disability, or ultimate disposition. The TDRL also serves as a safeguard for both the member and the Air Force by delaying permanent disposition for those members whose conditions could improve or get worse,or where the ultimate disposition could change within a reasonable period of time

5.14.1. Disability Retired Pay. DFAS-CL/FR may use two different formulas for computing retired pay (Table 5.1.). They may base computation on years of creditable service or on percentage of disability, whichever is more advantageous to the member. In addition, if entitled to pay computation under some other provision of law that would result in greater retired pay, DFAS-CL/FR makes that computation. DFAS-CL/FR selects the one more favorable, unless the member specifically requests that retired pay be computed at some lower rate authorized by law. According to 10 U.S.C. 1401 and 8991, retired pay may not exceed 75 percent of the retired pay base (current base pay or "high three," as applicable).