Senator Tommy Tuberville Is Weakening Our Military Preparedness And Violating His Constitutional Oath

September 6th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

In 2018,  Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the VA Mission Act, a bipartisan effort to expand medical care for veterans proposed by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The Mission Act greatly increased the availability of Community Care, which had been part of VA care since 1914 and which allowed veterans to access needed care from the private sector when care at VA facilities was overly inconvenient and a hardship because of distance.  For example, here in the Berkshires, the Community Care  provisions of the Mission Act allowed me to have my shoulder replaced a few months ago — that’s what hitting  nearly a million tennis overheads will do for you!

The Mission Act shows how the Department of Veterans Affairs strives to care for people who have given a part of their lives to the defense of the country. It is a medical, as well as a highly successful public relations program, in that the country sees a nation caring for its own, which translates to an incentive for attracting soldiers for future needs. In an obvious calculation, the country has decided that caring for its veterans is in its national self-interest.

This includes reproductive care.

When the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision throwing abortion up in the air for states to handle like a game of pick-up sticks, the Department of Defense faced a quandary. Reproductive care had long been recognized as essential and, because of Roe v. Wade had never been a problem. The DOD did not pay for abortions in compliance with the Hyde Amendment of 1976, but it allowed soldiers to take time off for the procedure. Dobbs changed that. Soldiers get sent all over the world and all over America. How was the DOD to guarantee reproductive care if many states decided to make it virtually impossible?

The only viable answer became to allow soldiers to take paid time off and travel at government expense to where reproductive care and abortions were legal.

To that end, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a new policy last October that he said would ensure all troops have access to reproductive health care no matter where they were.

In a memo, Austin said service members and their families were worried they may not get equal access to health care, including abortions after the Dobbs decision. And as many states began to impose more abortion restrictions, he noted that service members who often must move for various missions or training would be forced to travel further, take more time off  and pay more to access reproductive health care.

The problem, Austin said, would create extraordinary hardship and “will interfere with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”

He ordered the department to allow troops and dependents, consistent with federal law, to take time off and use official travel to get to other states for reproductive care not available locally. That care includes in vitro fertilization and other pregnancy aids that also may not be accessible close by. As before, abortions would be paid for by the soldiers themselves in compliance with the Hyde Amendment.

Enter Alabama’s senior Senator Tommy Tuberville, who does not like what Secretary Austin and the DOD did even a little bit. Senator Tuberville, a former college football coach, is a man who has never served one day in the armed forces, who has never heard the special sound a bullet makes as it whizzes past your ear, and who has never experienced the family hardships soldiers face as they move from post to post around the country and the world. Military families move, on average, every 2.5 years, every move bringing change and the need to start anew for each member of the family. Military life has pros and cons, but among the downsides is the angst from having to negotiate these restarts. Children make friends in one school, then need to do it all over again and again.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you military life can be stressful, and the Department of Defense goes to great lengths to offer as much assistance as families need. That includes reproductive care.

Doesn’t seem to matter to old gridiron Tommy Tuberville. He seems to believe that allowing soldiers to get paid for travel to quality reproductive care is a military mistake akin to Napoleon invading Russia. And he’s done something about it. Deciding that military continuity of leadership is not necessary in today’s fast paced, modern military, beginning in March of this year he began single-handedly prohibiting promotions for senior military and civilian leadership. One Senator, out of a hundred, can do this. Nobody ever has until now. So far, he has blocked promotions for 301 senior field grade officers, generals and admirals whom the Department of Defense would like to promote to mostly replace retiring DOD senior officers. These include three members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and will shortly include Chairman Mark Milley, who is set to retire at the end of September.  If Tuberville’s intransigence continues we will find ourselves without a Chair of the Joint Chiefs. Already, Tuberville has left the Marine Corps leaderless for the first time in 164 years. DOD would like to promote Lieutenant General Eric Smith to the four-star level to replace Corps Commandant General David Berger who retired in July, but can’t, because of Tuberville.

So General Smith is in an “interim” role. This is not a minor thing. In an interview with the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe, Smith said, for now he must “ruthlessly adhere” to admonitions from the Senate that he not presume his next assignment is assured.

“People say, ‘What’s your commandant’s planning guidance?’” Smith said, referring to a major document that the Marine Corps leader typically distributes at the outset of his term, to set priorities and expectations for the 200,000 active-duty troops and reservists under his command. The general’s reply: “You’ll have to ask the 39th commandant when that person is confirmed,” he said, “because I cannot work on that document.”

With hundreds of promotions at stake, Senate leaders would have to hold roll call votes on every single one of them to get around the hold. It’s a decades-long tradition for the Senate to group military promotions together and approve them by voice vote, avoiding lengthy roll calls, but doing them individually would tie the Senate in knots for weeks. Again, doesn’t matter to “Coach,” as his staff refers to Tuberville.

The Pentagon and lawmakers opposed to Tuberville’s actions, Democrats and Republicans alike, say the holds create a trickle-down effect that is hurting military readiness, preventing scores of officers from moving to new jobs, either as nominees or staff members. They argue that less experienced leaders are being forced to step in.

For his part, Tuberville says this whole thing can go away if the DOD reverses its decision to give time off and pay for travel for abortions. Until that happens — which it won’t — he will continue to prevent the orderly transfer of leadership, pretty much as he tried to do on January 6th, 2021, when he voted not to certify Joe Biden’s election.

Secretary Austin runs the largest and most sophisticated military in the history of the world, and this is not making his job any easier. It is a national embarrassment. More important, it is jeopardizing our national security.

I first wrote about Senator Tuberville and his current antics in July. And, frankly, I thought by now he would quit this “hold” nonsense, say he had made his point, fold his tent, and leave the field. But no. That would have been too easy. Instead, since then, he has dug the hole deeper. By weakening our armed forces as he is doing, he is violating his Constitutional oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” 

I’ve always believed we get the leaders we deserve, and maybe Alabama deserves Tommy Tuberville. But the rest of us don’t, and, for sure, the valiant men and women of our armed forces don’t.