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CG updates alcohol rules, expands drug screening

Mar. 29, 2014 - 02:37PM   |  
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TREATMENT CHANGES
Along with new rules for who can drink and when, the servicewide message outlining changes to the Coast Guard’s alcohol and drug policy makes these modifications to the service’s drug-treatment programs:
■ Coast Guardsmen can be referred to treatment by their commands — a “nonpunitive” measure, according to ALCOAST 104/14, as is self-referral. The command can do so without a documented alcohol- or drug-related incident.
■ Nonpunitive doesn’t mean private: New “Command Need to Know” guidance will “support the disclosure of fitness-for-duty determinations for substance abuse ... or violations of the drug abuse policy,” the message said.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act already provides for military commands to ask for private medical information that pertains to mission performance, service spokesman Carlos Diaz said.
■ Personnel records will separate any administrative remarks from any addiction-related treatment or medical diagnoses.

In an effort to increase accountability in the service, the Coast Guard is cracking down on drinking and illegal drug use with a slate of new regulations, outlined in a recent servicewide message.

New, standardized rules on drinking age, alcohol consumption and consequences for alcohol-related incidents will reduce some of the negative effects on performance caused by irresponsible drinking, commandant Adm. Bob Papp said in ALCOAST 104/14.

“Abuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances also contributes to other misconduct that is contrary to our ethos, core values and heritage,” he said. “Further, after thorough consideration, I have concluded that there is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption by Coast Guardsmen under 21 years of age and readiness and proficiency of the force.”

Here’s what’s new:

■ Twenty-one is the standard, legal drinking age for all Coast Guardsmen, regardless of local laws. The lone exception:While on authorized leave, members are subject to local laws.

■ Servicewide minimum standards for alcohol consumption will be released, including policies for aviators and shipboard Coasties already on the books. Some assigned duties will have lower limits, and commanders are able to revoke drinking at their discretion.

■ Service members will have only one opportunity to remove an underage alcohol incident (with no other associated misconduct) from their record.

■ Coasties with a substantiated report of operating a vehicle, aircraft or vessel while impaired will be administratively discharged.

■ Increased numbers of urinalysis screening over a wider selection of units.

To clarify, individual commanders will be able to set daily drink limits for their units, service spokesman Carlos Diaz told Navy Times. They’ll also have discretion to restrict those privileges based on unit readiness or job descriptions. “For example, pilots already have restrictive alcohol consumption requirements based on when they will fly,” he said.

The underage-incident update covers only a tiny amount of service members, Diaz said, because existing Coast Guard policy states a member can petition to remove an underage drinking incident from their record if three years have passed without another incident.

“While infrequent, it was possible for an underage member to have an incident removed after three years, then still be underage after that for a period of time,” he said.

Additionally, the ALCOAST eliminates the first-level flag officer “second chance” program for alcohol incidents, which had allowed commanders to unilaterally waive discharge procedures. Now, first-level flag officers will be able to recommend second-chance waivers to the final discharge authority, but can’t decide unilaterally.

No more 'situations'

Finally, the Coast Guard is eliminating the term “alcohol-related situation” from its policies. An “alcohol situation” had been defined as an incident “in which alcohol was involved or present but was not considered a causative factor for a member’s undesirable behavior or performance.” An example: buying alcohol for minors.

“Having the term ‘alcohol situation’ in the alcohol policy manual has led to confusion, and it is unnecessary,” Diaz said. “This type of behavior should be treated as misconduct, separate from the alcohol policy.”

In his final State of the Coast Guard address Feb. 25, Papp emphasized accountability on alcohol use, particularly because of its relation to another issue the service is working to fix.

“If we are truly going to succeed, we can no longer ignore the insidious link between the abuse of alcohol and sexual assault,” he said. “Alcohol abuse contributes to many acts that are contrary to our core values.”■

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