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Stand & Deliver

[whitespace] Pentagon gets a grip on the Viagra gap

By Cecil L. Bothwell III

THE JANUARY 1999 issue of Harper's magazine reports that the Pentagon will spend $50 million on Viagra this year. While I guess this must be regarded as a necessary expense for maintenance of a standing army, it sure seems like a bad omen for civilian Viagra users. Systems adopted by our armed forces have a decidedly mixed success rate and inevitably get more expensive with each failure.

Depression often decreases libido, so it could be that the military's Viagra budget signals a normal reaction to technological failure, rather than an abnormal physiological condition. But either way you have to wonder who's in need of a lift.

Perhaps the medicine is destined for the Army's attack helicopter wing, which seems to be having trouble getting its birds up lately. The General Accounting Office reports that the new AH-64D Apache Longbow, from Boeing, can either fly or carry weapons, but not both. When fully loaded with fuel and missiles these high-ticket whirly birds exhibit a negative vertical rate of climb, or VROC. This means they will not rise.

While that tiny glitch doesn't seem to bother the bosses who are shelling out $4.9 billion for 758 of these babies, you've got to think that pilots will be worried. Apparently the only way they will be able to fly the Longbow into battle is unarmed, which is enough to make any soldier reach for a little picker-upper.

Meanwhile, I can't help wondering what military women think of the Viagra budget. The evidence from the Tailhook affair tells me that sex is the problem, not the solution. "Down boy" is more of an issue than VROC. On the other hand, we hear of women officers facing courts-martial for fraternizing with the troops. If an enlisted man were taking the military-issue performance enhancement drug, could an accused officer claim that she was engaged in Systems Evaluation rather than an affair?

"I was investigating troop readiness, General."

"And ... ?"

"Locked and loaded, General. Locked and loaded."

Then too, there is the fairness issue. This isn't like those pricey but unisex toilet seats and hammers we hear about. This is a guy thing. It has been widely reported that insurance companies quickly stepped in to fund Viagra prescriptions when it hit the market, while one in three health plans still refuses to pay for birth control pills. Such obvious sexism is indefensible on anything except monetary grounds (The contraceptive pill would cost insurers a bundle), and in the broader view it is totally nuts.

LIKE FERTILITY nostrums that now allow humans to have litters, financing of erections without funding of family planning works against society's best interests. "We'll make more" is OK for potato chips. People? We already have too many.

Now, it's obvious that, when used as directed, a lot of military gear does work toward reducing population. But I don't think anyone would argue that bullets and tanks offer the same benefit to women in uniform that Viagra presumably does to men. The rules against fraternizing indicate that there is no legal way for military women to get subsidiary benefit of the drug. So, what will it be?

Maybe the Pentagon should set up a massage program for the girls. At fifty bucks a shot, equal funding would cover a million masseuse hours. There wouldn't even be a need for new training!

Staffers in the military's procurement divisions have been massaging figures for years.

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From the February 11-17, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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