Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Project 100,000 isn’t very present in the public consciousness anymore. Maybe it never was, but it was part of the story in movies like Forrest Gump and Full Metal Jacket.
For those unaware, Project 100,000 was a Vietnam-era program that loosened academic standards for service. Not surprisingly, many of the individuals who served in Project 100,000 ended up with bad paper discharges when they were asked to perform work beyond their capacity.
Membership in Project 100,000 is prevalent enough that I look through the records of almost every Vietnam-era client for references. I even screen clients who served just after the war because the program appears to have been unofficially extended.
Examining for membership in Project 100,000 requires looking closely at entrance test scores. Reviewing these test scores is not always easy because there were a lot of unethical recruiting practices being used at the time. I had a client who could barely read, but somehow managed to score in the 124th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). His real score was a 12, which put him in category IV (of five).
This means you have to look at every score in the records. Most of the time there’s some indicator of a potential issue. I look for an AFQT score of 30 or below, a general technical below 80, and any reference to membership in Category IV or V. There’s supposed to be a stamp on the enlistment contract; however, I rarely see it in my client’s records.
There are other records you can check. If you get the client’s school records, you can look for IQ testing. You may also see references to the antiquated term “educable mental retardation” or “EMR.”
In-service performance reviews will sometimes give a clear indication of an inability to perform duties. When looking at these records, it’s important to know that base-level servicemembers were not supposed to be informed about membership in Project 100,000. This means that a client’s commanding office may not have known that the client couldn’t read or do more than basic math. Knowing about this withheld information will help you understand the records and also help you explain to an adjudicator why your client was treated unfairly.
The book McNamara’s Folly by Hamilton Gregory will be of interest to anyone who wants more information. I also did a CLE on this issue for the North Carolina Bar Association: Project 100,000 and the New Standards Men | NCBA CLE (ncbar.org).
Robert Davis is a veterans law practitioner and co-chair of NLSVCC Legislative Advocacy Committee.