There is a disturbing story today regarding a young disabled man, with multiple disabilities, who was recruited into the Marine Corps for service. I have to preface this story by saying that I love the Marine Corps. I have many friends and family who have served and I am proud of them and the Marine Corps. However, this story is disturbing because of the potential consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be in this situation.
The young man’s name is Joshua Fry and he has been diagnosed as Autistic. He was living in a group home at the time of his enlistment; in fact, it is alleged that a Marine recruiter picked him up from the home and took him to the recruitment center to enlist. The background of the story, as I understand it, is that this young man was born to parents who allegedly abused drugs. He was diagnosed as being Autistic, as a young child. Joshua was allegedly abused as a child and he had learning disabilities. He struggled in school and had allegedly developed a relationship with a military recruiter. Joshua got himself into trouble allegedly for stealing and having a weapon; and, he was sent away to a treatment facility for counseling.
In the meantime, Joshua’s grandmother had custody of him and allegedly told the Marine recruiter to take Joshua’s name off of the call list as he was “not Marine material”. It would have been easy enough to check that out by following up with the school administrators. Those words should have been the end of any active pursuit of Joshua, as a person to be considered as a Marine recruit.
For a recruiter to continue to persue an individual like Joshua; it should be considered a crime. Many special needs people would love to be in the military; however, the nature of the job requires quick thinking, reliable decision making every time, the ability to use good judgement, and, to exhibit character traits that would be of an elevated level compared to the average individual. Some individuals able-bodied or not, no matter how how they try, are not going to be able to perform at those levels and meet those responsibilities. It is important that those in the military be able to do so because lives depend on it!
For many people with multiple special needs…being able to make fast, quality decisions regarding the safety and well-being of themselves, as well as others, is difficult; even under normal circumstances, but if you add into the mix, the stress and chaos of a war situation, it could be a dangerous combination. It is heartbreaking to have someone want to serve who just may not be qualified to do so because of a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. But encouraging that same individual to go ahead and sign up should be criminal…it is not in the best interest of that individual, the military personel who work alongside of them, or the families who love and support them, to the best of their abilities.
It is being alleged that when Joshua got out of the facility and entered the group home; he had re-established a relationship with the recruiter. If it is true that the grandmother had spoken to those at the recruiting station and told them of the problems with Joshua…that should have been the end of any attempts to recruit him. If that recruiter had the knowledge of the problems that Joshua struggled with; he should not have allowed Joshua to sign up.
Joshua’s grandmother had the courts approval to be his legal conservator. Basically, meaning that he was not able to sign most legal documents because he wasn’t able to completely understand the legal consequences in doing so. He had a low IQ, he was diagnosed as Autistic, bi-polar, asthmatic, he had learning disabilities and he had also been treated in an in-patient environment. For all of those reasons and more…he should never have been a candidate for service in the Marine Corps.
Once he got to boot camp, he found himself in over his head. He got in trouble for stealing food, for disrespecting authority, and, he was not following orders. He told those in positions of authority that he didn’t want to be a Marine and told them of his history. They agreed he shouldn’t be there after talking to his grandmother; but, instead of sending him home he was allowed to graduate boot camp. Months later, he was found to have pornographic photos on his cell phone…disciplined and instructed to not do it again. He failed and again was found to be in possession…this time with child pornography. What he did is wrong definately, does he understand that? That is the question…does he know what he did is wrong; and, is he capable of understanding that his actions have legal consequences?
He was arrested and is being held on a variety of charges that he probably does not understand and is incapable of avoiding committing over and over again in the same military environment that he should never have been allowed to enter in the first place. For heaven’s sake, this is an individual that was living in a supervised setting because of issues relating to the impulsive behaviors associated with his disabilities that didn’t allow him to live independently. How in the world is he expected to fulfill his commitment to the military? What will happen to Joshua and others like him? What kind of legal discipline will he be forced to accept? Will he be dismissed from service and returned to a supervised group home setting or will he be in the prison system?
While some disabilities allow individuals to perform many tasks related to military life…there is no guarantee that those are the only situations in which they will be needed to perform in. We have to be very careful about making decisions regarding allowing those with disabilities into the military. Their very lives could depend on it.
Recruiters are expected to persuade prospects to sign on the dotted line and become a member of our military service. However, people with documented low IQ’s, learning disabilities or medical or emotional issues that would prevent them from performing their duties in a safe and timely manner should not be “encouraged to join up”. This feels a little like it is taking advantage of someone’s lack of understanding. It is an unfair advantage to have knowledge that they could be put into situations that are not within their capabilities of handling appropriately; and, still encourage them to join the service.
We are in a time of war, men and women are needed to serve. However, it is wrong to recruit people who are at a disadvantage intellectually, physically or emotionally. This issue is going to become more of a problem because of some changes being made to the educational requirements across our nation. Many special education students are caught between a rock and a hard place with the raising of educational requirements to graduate. Many of them will no longer be allowed to get a diploma…they will be getting a certificate of completion instead. Some of them will have to go to high school for 5-6 years, as the additional requirements are phased in. This is already resulting in many students either dropping out of high school or choosing to get a GED. Many more will try to seek a position with the military because of the lack of jobs available for special needs persons. Just because someone is disabled or has special needs doesn’t mean that they are not patriotic; it doesn’t mean that they don’t want the respect that being in the military can give them. Many would love an opportunity to be a hero for their country by serving. This makes them vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to signing up.
It is important that the Marine Corps does what is right in this situation for Joshua and others like him. He was out of his element here; and, it should have been stopped by those in a position to do so before he ever signed on the dotted line and spent one day in boot camp. Many eyes will be watching. Parents, agencies, friends and educators…please be aware that your special needs students are vulnerable to the desire to serve their country. It is admirable, but they are also vulnerable to recruiters who need to put people into the service and are more than willing to talk to your students in a way that makes them even more determined to serve; whether they are fully capable of doing the job safely, or not.
What are your thoughts on these issues?
I heard about a news item recently, it discussed an alleged criminal conduct case that is being investigated regarding some staff members of a residential home for the disabled. The news report was talking about how the staff was alledgedly “bored” and encouraged/forced some of the residents to fight one another. If that is true that they did this, then, that is not a fight club…it is abuse and neglect, and failure to protect. There is supposed to be a video that was allegedly proves some of these accusations.
This, if proven to be accurate, is a criminal offense and charges will be forthcoming; hopefully, it will show those who were responsible for such actions against the disabled residents. According to the news report, the residents did not want to fight one another…the small numer of staff are being accused of chasing some of the residents down the hallway and forcing them to fight one another. Investigations take time, so it is important to not assume anything, just yet, regarding those rumored to be associated with this case. However, residents deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; they should feel safe at all times.
These accusations, if they are proven true, are frightening to those of us who have disabled loved ones. It is not easy to make the decision to place a loved one in a facility. Once that decision is made, trust is a big factor in allowing yourself to have peaceful moments. Most families do research, on available residences for the disabled; but, ultimately you have to go with your gut and trust that things are on the up and up…and that your loved one is safe. You hope and pray that you are never proven wrong about trusting a facility and making a decision for placement. Still, staff members come and go…I think it is wise to remember to follow up with periodic drop in visits…and, have conversations with your loved one, when it is possible, about the day-to-day operations in the place.
No one can or will take care of your loved one exactly like you do. However, it comes down to some basic safety & caregiving facts. Are the staff & residents carefully screened with criminal background checks? Are there seperate secure residential rooms for those who have been violent in the past? What precautions are taken to ensure physical and sexual safety for the residents? Are they properly trained and geared towards delivering care with sensitivity? Are there any complaints on file about the facility? Is there enough staff on duty, at all times, to ensure that things are done correctly and safely? Do they have an open door policy for family members? What are the proper procedures for complaints, if an issue or question should come about regarding your loved one? Are other residents screened for previous physical, and or, sexual abuse? Are there cameras in the hallways? Are there phones available for the resident’s use? How does the staff interact with the residents? Does your loved one ever express concern or fear about living in the facility?
I dont know about you…but, when i hear about stories of abuse or neglect in homes or residential placements for the disabled it makes me angry. The disabled are one of the most vulnerable segments of our population and they should not have to be put through these kinds of situations. There are some really great places for the disabled to live and when reports come out about the places that have exploited the disabled or endangered them; it is discouraging. Have you ever had to place a loved one in a facility? Do you have any words of advice to share with the readers on these issues?
I was disturbed this past week by a news report of a special needs student who was left on his special needs bus. The bus aide allegedly knew, according to news reports, that the student had fallen asleep on the bus but allegedly didn’t notify the bus driver. It was reported that the aide was late for church or some appointment and didn’t take measures to ensure that the student was delivered to his destination. That student was left on a freezing cold bus for over 19 hours without relatives knowing where he was. If those accusations are proven to be true…it is unacceptable…both morally and legally.
The student ended up being hospitalized because of the temperatures that he was exposed to while on that bus overnight on New Year’s Eve. The family of this student was both horrified and outraged. The student is on the mend…but, there may be residual fear that that student has to struggle with.
In those kinds of situations…the disabled are at the mercy of the person who is responsible for their care in those moments. The thing is…as a parent…you really have to rely on the personal responsibility and the integrity of the caregiver’s value system. Will they care for your loved one in a safe and caring way, as you yourself would? How do you ensure that your loved one is properly taken care of in your absence?
When you leave your special person in the care of others you have to be convinced of that individual’s competancy. When that caregiver fails to protect or neglects to provide safe and appropriate care…who is responsible? Is it the individual…the agency, school, or system that they work for? It is accountability that helps to prevent devastating situations from taking place.
I think a big part of the equasion is that you develop a close and personal relationship with the care provider. You try to make sure that there are checks and balances set up to hold people accountable. The bus situation could be avoided if there is a system that does a final check of each bus seat before the aids/drivers leave the bus at the end of a shift. Alot of school systems have a check list…the bus drivers and aides must complete a walk thru of the bus before finally putting a sign on the bus window or door that verifys that the bus is free of any riders when the aides/drivers leave that bus.
This was a horrible story; but, it is also an experience to learn from. Any real life situations that you could share that would help another family?
Ok, I know in practical terms…teaching independent living skills along the way while raising children is just common sense. However, as one of my children is approaching his last year in high school…it feels like I have an egg timer alongside of each day.
My son is a senior in high school. There is not much time left to teach him some really important lessons. Where we live, in a rural setting, there is not some great program available to him to continue educating him after graduation. In Michigan, if my son goes for his diploma at the end of the year; as opposed to a certificate of completion…his educational opportunities as a special ed student come to an end. If he wanted to continue in the school system, he could choose a certificate of completion…but, the only available program for him is a daily living skills program. While that is a valuable tool, it doesn’t in my opinion outweigh the benefits of going for the diploma.
Because we live in a rural area….there is not much opportunity for employment, in general, let alone if you have special needs that can hinder your employability.
The things that are important to my son at this stage of his life…are dual edged. He wants to drive a car. He wants to hunt. He wants freedom to make his own choices. He wants to work. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things…but in some cases, those very things are difficult to achieve or not in that person’s best interest.
My son’s abilities are limited because of several factors. He reads at a first grade level…and that, is with difficulty. He has problems with assessing safety situations. He is wanting to work…but sometimes, has trouble staying on task and focussed. These issues are going to limit his ability to hunt, to drive, to live on his own without some sort of safety backup plan.
Our plan is to work with him on planning meals and grocery shopping; he also likes to hoard food and eat it almost as soon as it is purchased That won’t be condusive to living on his own if he cannot somehow understand the concept of planning and executing a plan for purchasing and divying up the food purchases to make up meals for a set number of days at a time. He will have to show more care with personal hygene; it isn’t high on his list to change his dirty clothing when going away…he just doesn’t think about it. He will need to learn to think ahead for those situations.
We are wracking our brains trying to come up with some type of job that he is able to do and excited about doing. Many of the types of jobs he wants are not realistic. We have enrolled him in an class that will be working towards teaching him an employable skill. I think he will take pride in this; if he continues to enjoy it once he gets into the curriculum.
Housing, we are blessed that we were able to plan ahead for this years ago. We purchased a house next door to us years ago with the intention of using it for independent living skills for our boys as they became ready. This will allow close supervision but also allow for them to feel independent and “free” to be a grown up.
This year will hold many surprises and advancements. It is an exciting and scary time for him and for us. We all have a lot to learn as we transition to adulthood together! Here is a great link of things to consider when easing into independent living: http://www.teachersfirst.com/sped/parents/transition/eric-lifeskills.html