Military officials have stepped up their anti-hazing efforts in recent years, but haven't tracked whether any of those changes are working, according to a new study out this week.
The Defense Department "has not conducted oversight by regularly monitoring the implementation of its hazing policy by the military services," researchers from the Government Accountability Office say in their new report. "Likewise, the Coast Guard has not required regular headquarters-level monitoring of the implementation of its hazing policy."
GAO officials also found inconsistencies with the collection of data about hazing incidents in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and no real tracking of cases in the Air Force and Coast Guard.
As a result, researchers could not determine whether the problem is getting better or worse in the ranks.
"If [troops] do not fully understand the hazing policies, hazing victims may not be able to recognize hazing when it occurs, including hazing by those in positions of authority," the report states.
Officials from the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard, said that changes made in recent months should improves those shortfalls, and promised that leaders are committed to stopping hazing among service members.
Each of the five services has put in place anti-hazing offices and policies in the last decade, and developed new training courses and related instructional materials. The report said those recent efforts provide "a general overview of prohibited conduct and the potential consequences."
But the efforts are often too broad to be of real help to service members.
"The training materials generally focused on clear examples of hazing behaviors, and did not illustrate where accepted activities such as training and discipline can cross the line into hazing," the report states.
Despite those problems, GAO researchers said surveys conducted by the services show understanding of the potentially devastating consequences to morale and readiness of hazing.
The report, mandated by Congress, was prompted by multiple reports of hazing in the ranks in recent years, including the 2011 conviction of seven Coast Guard members for hazing on board the cutter Venturous and the suicide of an Army private in Afghanistan later that year reportedly after being subjected to verbal and physical hazing.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.