I like beer, and I’d wager that most veterans like beer too.
Budweiser placed a similar bet Sunday night during the Super Bowl with its ad “A Hero’s Welcome,” which showed a Norman Rockwell-esque homecoming for Army 1st Lt. Chuck Nadd in his hometown of Winter Park, Fla.
The ad tugs my heartstrings. Nonetheless, it should have never been aired.
The ad ignores the complicated relationship that veterans have with alcohol, obscuring how much harm booze does to veterans when they come home.
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The military’s Joint Ethics Regulation section 3-209 states that “Endorsement of a non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise may be neither stated nor implied by DoD or DoD employees in their official capacities and titles, positions, or organization names may not be used to suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment of any non-Federal entity except (the services’ official relief societies).”
Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike.
Another set of regulations relates to the Army’s anti-alcohol program.
Paragraph 3-4 of that regulation, titled “Deglamorization,” states that “ [I]t is Army policy to maintain a workplace free from alcohol,” and that “At all levels alcohol will not be glamorized nor made the center of attention at any military function.”
This rule forbids the Army from bringing alcohol companies like Budweiser onto bases to support Army functions, and regulation sharply limits the ways the Army can interact with these alcohol makers and distributors.
An Army spokesman said the ad had been vetted, and Army officials concluded that Ladd’s appearance in uniform while on duty did not constitute “official support to or otherwise partner[ing] with” Budweiser or the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the spot’s production.
Because these are Army and Defense Department rules, and not statutes carved into law, senior Pentagon leaders can generally waive them. However, an option’s legality often says nothing about its wisdom.
Few things unite public health researchers more than the ill effects of alcohol.
The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health found in 2005 that veteran alcohol use surpassed non-veteran drinking. The rates of alcohol use were highest among young veterans aged 18-25, who were also the ones most likely to engage in binge drinking.
A recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health said 27 percent of Iraq veterans met the criteria for alcohol abuse and were therefore at higher risk for drunk driving and illicit drug use.
The NIH also reported that alcohol and drug use frequently overlapped with military suicide, with booze or drugs involved in 30 percent of Army suicide deaths between 2003 and 2009 and 45 percent of attempts during roughly the same period.
A 2011 study by Veterans Affairs and U.C. San Francisco researchers documented an 11 percent rate of alcohol or drug abuse disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seen by the VA. And, more importantly, these researchers found that three quarters of those diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse also had PTSD or depression.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military instituted policies explicitly banning all deployed troops from consuming alcohol. There was a good reason: Alcohol can lead to depression, worsen PTSD, and — in some cases — accelerate the downward spiral that leads to suicide.
Decades of research should have persuaded the Army to avoid getting in bed with Budweiser. Better for at-risk soldiers to hear a simple truth: This Bud isn’t for you.
Phillip Carter is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He served in 2009 as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy. firstname.lastname@example.org