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Doubt Cast on Effects of Military Service

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Washington--Contrary to popular belief and some previous research findings, military service does not appear to give low-aptitude young adults any advantages over their civilian peers later in life, a new Defense Department-sponsored study asserts.

The study of the postservice experiences of veterans who had scored poorly on the Armed Forces Qualification Test found that military service provided no long-term advantages, and may have even left some veterans at a disadvantage, with lower income and education levels and higher unemployment rates than their nonveteran counterparts.

"Regardless of speculations as to 'why not,' the military doesn't appear to be the panacea for struggling youth," the study's authors conclude. "Its effects do not seem to spill over into civilian life, at least for those with lesser abilities."

"[The Defense Department] does not appear able to turn disadvantage into advantage," the researchers add. "To the extent that various 'national service' proposals have, as one of their goals, remediation through military service, such hopes may be in vain."

The new findings may influence the prospects of bills that would establish military-style national-service programs for teenagers and young adults, said Representative4Lane Evans, the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee subcommittee on oversight and investigations. The Illinois Democrat held a hearing on the study last week.

Wayne S. Sellman, who initiated the study while serving as the Defense Department's director for accession policy, told the subcommittee he was "disappointed" with the report's conclusions. But added he still would have "no qualms at all" about recruiting low-aptitude youths for certain military jobs.

"School guidance counselors should realize that there are jobs in the military that these students can do," Mr. Sellman said. "[Military service] may not be a better alternative, but it is a viable alternative."

Lower Standards

The study was authorized during the mid-1980's, when the military considered lowering its standards in light of the declining number of potential recruits.

Conducted by the Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va., with the assistance of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the study examined samples from two separate, large groups of low-aptitude veterans. All the subjects had scored between the 10th and 30th percentiles on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, a battery of verbal and mathematics questions used to screen applicants for trainability.

The first sample consisted of 311 veterans drawn from a total of about 320,000 low-aptitude recruits who entered the military between 1966 and 1971. These recruits, who did not meet then-current standards, were admitted under "Project 100,000," a program begun by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to meet the escalating manpower needs of the Vietnam War and to assist President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" by improving their economic status through military service.

Compared with low-aptitude nonveterans from similar demographic backgrounds, however, these men were found to have higher unemployment rates, significantly lower average levels of education, and average incomes that were $5,000 to $7,000 less than their nonveteran peers. They also were more likely to have never married or have gotten divorced.

Of the Project 100,000 veterans who said military service had hurt their careers, more than 25 percent cited physical problems and another 25 percent emotional problems as the harmful effects of service.

The second sample of 326 men came from a population of more than 300,000 low-aptitude veterans admitted between 1976 and 1980 as a result of a scoring error on the enlistment screening test.

These veterans were statistically no different from their low-aptitude nonveteran peers in employmentstatus, occupational category, and average income. They were, however, found to have acquired significantly less formal education and were more likely to be divorced or dissatisfied with their jobs.

Conflicting Data

The Defense Department findings conflict with previous studies that have shown military service to provide long-term advantages to the overall veteran population. They also contradict the findings of a study of 477 veterans from Project 100,000 undertaken in the early 1970's.

In that study, researchers from the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory found low-aptitude veterans who had been out of the military for three years to be better off than their peers in terms of education, employment, income, and job skills.

William E. Beusse, a research psychologist who conducted the previous Project 100,000 study, last week defended his findings before the Veterans' Affairs subcommittee. He said the new study, conducted 10 to 20 years after most of the veterans had been discharged, may have been less accurate in its selection of a control group.

Mr. Beusse also noted that recent developments in Eastern Europe are leading to a decline in the military's manpower needs. "When the services go through a period of retrenchment," he said, "they tend to raise the standards for enlistment and retention and screen out low-aptitude men."

Nancy M. Pinson-Millburn, assistant executive director for the American Association for Counseling and Development, whose membership includes more than 14,000 school counselors, said few, if any, counselors today would steer low-aptitude students toward careers in the military.

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