Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Relentless Pursuit of Truth Department

We continue to follow the case of Air Force Major Jill Metzger, the personnel officer whose "abduction" Kyrgyzstan last year touched off an international incident. About weeks ago, various media outlets and websites have reported that Metzer would be medically retired in early July, due to post-traumatic stress resulting from that incident. That sparked an outcry from military personnel and veterans' groups, who wondered how Major Metzger's disability claim was processed so quickly, while wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan inch their way through the system.

Within a couple of days of that initial report, Metzger's status seemingly changed again. The Major's mother told reporters that her daughter would be taking an 18-month leave-of-absence from the Air Force, beginning early next month. Then, almost as quickly, the story took another turn, with Mrs. Metzger reporting that her daughter was going on medical leave. She explained that the planned leave period would allow Major Metzger to spend time with her husband (who she married just before the deployment to Kyrgyzstan), and decide about her future in the Air Force. A number of retired commanders and First Sergeants that we spoke with expressed puzzlement about that option, saying they were unfamiliar with any service regulation that allows personnel to take a "leave of absence."

Since our last post on this subject, we've heard from Capt E., a longtime friend (and former student), who has almost a decade of experience in the personnel career field. He researched the appropriate Air Force regulations and tells us that a military medical board has four options for someone in Major Metzger's situation:

1. Separate with severance pay
2. Permanently retire the member
3. Give the member leave of absence
4. Temporarily retire the member

Capt E also notes that Air Force Instruction 36-3003 allows commanders to grant "excess leave" (without pay and benefits) after all ordinary leave has been exhausted. However, our friend could not explain multiple "changes" in Metzger's status, since medical boards are appointed by senior Air Force officials, and carefully weigh the facts of each case before rendering their decision. It would be extremely odd for a board to "retire" a service member, then reconvene and modify their decision two times, all within a 48-hour window.

In fairness, the confusion over Major Metzger's status may be the result of uninformed or "misinformed" speculation by supposed "insiders." The personnel officer has not spoken with the media since returning from Kyrgyzstan, and the only public comments on her duty status have come from her mother, the wife of a retired Colonel. Due to Privacy Act restrictions, Air Force public affairs officers (and other officials) are barred from commenting on the duty status of individual service members.

Unfortunately, the lack of "official" information and purported changes in duty status have only muddied the situation, and prompted even more conjecture about "back-door" deals and alleged cover-ups. However, given the fact that the Kyrgyzstan incident remains the subject of Air Force and Justice Department investigations, the "leave" option may have been the only viable choice for the medical board. Service regulations do not allow the retirement or separation of personnel who are the subject of on-going probes; placing Major Metzger on leave allows the service to retain administrative control while those inquires continue.

While granting medical leave (or a leave of absence) were clearly within Air Force regulations, the decision still leaves unanswered questions about the Metzger case. The amount of leave that was granted (18 months) seems unusually long, particularly for someone with no apparent physical injuries and some capacity to perform assigned military duties (Major Metzger has worked as a Manpower Officer since her return to Moody AFB last fall).

There's also the issue of consistency. How does disposition of Major Metzger's case (so far) compare with those of other Air Force members suffering from PTSD? In other words, did other airmen with that condition receive a similar amount of medical leave, or did they get less time off for rest and recuperation? Obviously, all PTSD cases--and patients--differ, but the flood of patients from Iraq and Afghanistan have likely produced some general guidelines for patient leave and recovery times which could provide comparisons for the Metzger situation. [We would like to hear from military mental health professionals who have treated PTSD patients, and have experience in recommending medical leave, leave of absence or retirement for those personnel.]

From all we can gather, the Air Force had every right to place Major Metzger on medical leave, and we wish her well. But the controversy that began with her disappearance last year--and continued with her changing status earlier this month--won't disappear with her pending departure from Moody. Until we have a better understanding of what happened in Kyrgyzstan (and the recent decisions behind her evolving duty status), there will be even more speculation about these issues, and the reputations of both Major Metzger and the Air Force will suffer, fairly or unfairly.


johca said...

The three possibilities for an 18-month absence from being present to perform military duties.

AFI 36-3003 Military Leave Program:

14.13. Educational Leave of Absence. An authorized educational leave of absence is a leave of absence for a period of not to exceed two years for the purpose of permitting the member to pursue a program of education. The Office of the Secretary of Defense authorizes educational leave of absences with effective dates and eligibility criteria. HQ USAF (Education & Training Division (DPDE) manages educational leaves of absence when approved by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Members granted an educational leave of absence: …

AFI 36-3003 Military Leave Program:

Table 6. Excess leave requests:

Rule 5--while awaiting completion of administrative discharge proceedings under AFI 36-3206, Administrative Discharge Procedures for Commissioned Officers and AFI 36-3208, Administrative Separation of Airmen.---the MAJCOM or FOA/DP may approve unlimited days in 60-day increments.--Approve when you no longer need the member there and when the member meets medical criteria for separation. When reviewing requests, any approving authority may deny leave based on military necessity or in the best interests of the Air Force.

AFI 36-3003 Military Leave Program:

Rule 6--as an officer resigning in lieu of court martial--the MAJCOM or FOA/DP may approve unlimited days in 60-day increments.--If applicable approve when: (1) You no longer need the member there, (2) The member meets medical criteria for separation, and (3) The member serves all adjudged confinement, or (4) You or another authority figure commutes, remits, suspends, or defers the member’s sentence. NOTE: When reviewing requests, any approving authority may deny leave based on military necessity or in the best interests of the Air Force.

AND a possible 4th

RULE 7 as a member pending sentence by a court for a dismissal or punitive discharge.-- the court martial convening authority may approve.—n/A.

A third possibility is found in the Manual for Courts-Martial when researching the acused right to a speedy trial.

General military law requires [Manual for Courts-Martial, rule 707] the accused be brought to trial within 120 days after the earlier of: (1) Preferral of charges, (2) the imposition of restraint under R.C.M 304(a)(2)-(4), or (3) Entry onto active duty under R.C.M. 204. One of the exceptions to right to a speedy trial is if the accused is incompetent and committed to the custody of the Attorney General for hospitalization provided in R.C.M. 909(f). However there is also stipulation that if at the end of the period of commitment, the accused is returned to the custody of the general court-martial authority, a new 120-day time period under this rule shall begin on the date of such return to custody.

johca said...


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

VRVR said...

Thanks for following this story. I've been interested from day one when the ridiculous abduction story was told. It seems that the Air Force is trying to sweep this one under the carpet. Why? Just how embarrassing is this story? Who ELSE is involved? Seems like a lot of foot-dragging and cover-up for one lowly Major.

Brian said...

Time for a new Personnel Officer maybe?

The Maj could very easily be processed through the DES within a couple of months as long as all the examinations are done and she doesn't fight it.

Further, she could be placed on TDRL which cannot last for more than 5 years and has a requirement for redetermination every 18 months.

That 18 months sound familiar?