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Secret Service gaffes may stem from fatigue [Letter]

The recent problems of the Secret Service and the questions raised do indeed underscore the importance of choosing qualified vice presidential candidates, and Jules Witcover is correct that the choice has often been made to "balance the ticket." His examples of some of the miscalculations in vice-presidential choices leave out a few real bloopers as they must, merely for lack of space ("A timely history lesson for the Secret Service," Oct. 10).

While there was reportedly no love lost between President John F. Kennedy and his vice president Lyndon Baines Johnson, this was a fortunate case in that while Mr. Johnson was certainly chosen to balance the ticket, as president his record for domestic achievements was great and to a large degree made possible because he was a consummate politician. His miscalculations regarding Vietnam overshadow the immeasurable good he did for civil rights and many essential social programs of "the Great Society."

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The Secret Service debacle has led me to give thought to the issue not of the character or training of agents because I believe to a person each would lay down his or her life if necessary for the president or whoever he or she is assigned to cover. I hope that consideration is given to scheduling and the issue of mental fatigue.

It seems to me that assignments which are routine should be rotated frequently. It makes little sense to ask a man or woman trained for action to stand at the same post for hours on end and expect complete mental alertness and quickness of action. It seems more likely to me that what happened was a systems failure. Communication systems between agents and teamwork may also need review.

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I am a former newspaper reporter and now a physician and have considerable experience through years of treating patients in emergency rooms. I know from that experience that I was never more efficient or capable than when critical emergencies were coming in non-stop.

It was not unusual in one busy ER to have 15 bays with true emergencies, all of which I was handling with orders given out to supporting staff simultaneously. I had a team of nurses, x-ray technicians, lab techs and specialists on whom I could call, of course. Yet in a small community hospital with only one or two patients over a 12 hour shift, it took a great deal more effort to concentrate, make decisions and act quickly. My mind likely had been dulled by hours of inaction. Often, too, these were night shifts and I had been awakened from a sound sleep.

Experts on mental fatigue would be knowledgeable about the most efficient routine for specific assignments. Likely many studies have been published on this important subject.

Rachel Scott

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