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A Navy Times article quotes a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official, David McLenachen, VA's Director of Pension and Fiduciary Service, who represented the agency at the hearing HR 672, or The Ruth Moore Act. VA, he says, rejects the the bill because

veterans who file sexual trauma-related claims are “given a full and fair opportunity to have their claim considered,” [but] McLenachen said VA would like higher thresholds for evidence.
Such a position conflicts with a major goal of the bill, according to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who sponsors the legislation. Named for a Navy veteran who fought for 23 years to receive disability compensation for PTSD after being raped twice during her military service, the Act's intent runs precisely counter to McLenachen's claim that what's required are more stringent regulations. According to Rep. Pringree,
“VA will tell you that their system accepts secondary markers as evidence to verify an assault occurred,” she said. “As comforting as that sounds, we have seen time and time again that VA is vastly inconsistent in applying those standards. What one regional office will accept as proof, another will deny.

“The bottom line is that for too long the burden of proof has been on the veteran, and that needs to change now.”

As is too often the case, VA's official position conflicts with that of every major Veterans Support Organization (VSO). The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America all strongly support HR 672 and S 294, a similar bill in the Senate. In an FY 11 Defense Department (DoD) report conducted by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), researchers looked at 1,612 investigations of Military Sexual Assault (MSA). In this case, a single investigation can involve multiple cases of sexual assault. Among these investigations, 88 percent of the victims were female and 12 percent were male; most victims were in the junior enlisted ranks (63 percent); and most were less than 24 years of age. Nearly 90 percent of the MSA perpetrators were male, about half from the junior enlisted ranks, with senior enlisted, officers, civilians and "unknown" perpetrators making up the rest. In this case, it is suggestive that MSA victims concentrate among younger, mostly female, junior enlisted service members. Those with less power or voice within the organization or system would appear to be more frequently victims of assault and have less access to protection or redress of concerns.

Fortunately, more courageous voices than McLenachen's echoed through the hearing room from among those enlisted "victims." Those  individuals' experiences speak volumes. One of them, SGT Rebecca Harvilla, was the only female member of a bomb squad serving in eastern Afghanistan. If serving in a combat zone, in an extremely dangerous military occupational specialty (MOS) were not enough to contribute to a future diagnosis of PTSD (or much worse), consider constant fear of her own "battle-buddies," her comrades in arms. "The rape," she said, "was the 'ironic icing on the cake.'"

What started in basic training in January of 2004 with sexual jokes, innuendoes and simulated sexual play escalated to groping, slapping, harassment and ultimately ended with a rape before she left Afghanistan in September 2009, she said.

Havrilla's story gets worse before it gets better: she ran into her alleged rapist at a shop on Fort Leonard Wood; says she was told by a military chaplain that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped"; and says a friend found pictures of the attack on a pornography website.

 So, much like civilian rape victims, facing harassment and bullying on top of suffering the trauma of rape, SGT Harvilla and others like her should now, according to VA, meet a "higher threshold of evidence" because, of course, that's just what rape victims in combat zones (or anywhere else) are attempting to piece together while the assault is occurring.

Clearly, VA officials might benefit from reviewing some of the special characteristics of MSA (in addition to those in common with civilian sexual assault) that might complicate reporting these crimes: Consider that the

reasons given for such profound consequences of sexual abuse in the military are akin to the reasons women do not report sexual abuse. These include the torturing combination of isolation within a confined, no-exit environment; threat of death from the rapist; marginalization and punishment when reporting abuse; no one watching your back; and a command that wants the problem and "the messenger" to go away. It's a toxic, private war zone that takes more psychic strength to endure than combat.
Is it any wonder then that out of the 19,000 estimated MSAs the Defense Department claims occur each year, only about 1,100 get filed for investigation? Out of those cases, 575 get processed and 96 result in a court martial.

Is it wise for the VA to come out officially opposed to bi-partisan legislation designed to discourage this most heinous crime by encouraging its victims to come forward, get help, and get the compensation they are due? No, it's just absurd, actually. When polled as to why they join the military, all enlistees' responses get compiled and reported together. Therefore, all male and female respondents to surveys claim the same basic motives for having joined the military. Those include patriotism and a willingness to serve as a means to demonstrate that otherwise abstract (and ideologically abused) notion, as well as desire for education, training and future employment benefits, and a means for improving their lives. After training and preparing recruits for service, including in combat, teaching principles of brotherhood/sisterhood, loyalty, honor, integrity, and dedication to duty, it would be wrong for DoD not to vigorously pursue policies to reverse trends in the occurrence of MSA, ensuring victims get treatment and perpetrators get prosecuted. To do anything other than this would be madness. All men and women who serve their country deserve this basic respect toward their humanity, especially since their service, itself, may involve sacrifice of their lives.

Just as it would be patently wrong for DoD not to uphold such standards and enforce adherence to them, it is woefully misguided for VA to not support and advance the means by which MSA victims can attain every help that is due to them after they have separated from service. Taking any other position is callous or heartless, at best. At it's worst, if such a position discourages MSA victims from reporting assaults, such a tactic becomes aiding and abetting the occurrence of crimes, and is, therefore, criminal.

Originally posted to Military Community Members of Daily Kos on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:48 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Military Veterans, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, Invisible People, and RaceGender DiscrimiNATION.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 07:48:29 AM PDT

  •  McLenachen wants more stringent regulations? (6+ / 0-)

    WTF. He acts like the women are making this up. The services have repeatedly shown the rape is not a big concern. The services claim it is a he said/ she said thing. So without a complete investigation,a woman trying to get PTSD consideration has little proof that a rape even occurred. And McLenachen wants to say, "sorry, but you get no compensation without overwhelming evidence of a rape."
    How about putting someone with care and concern for others in charge, instead of a bean-counter that acts like the compensation is coming out of his wallet.

    "I'm gonna dance between the raindrops"

    by IB JOHN on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:52:35 AM PDT

  •  All true. (6+ / 0-)

    However, I'd suggest that perhaps an attitude adjustment is required.
    There seems to be a logic which holds that, along the lines of lesser/included offenses or less-than-lethal weapons, the willingness to sacrifice one's life in the military implies consent to giving up all other (lesser) rights. So, if the "ultimate sacrifice" isn't exacted, the military person who (after all) volunteered to die, should be glad that the worst didn't happen.
    This attitude needs to change. Not only are there things worse than death, but the violation of one's integrity in sexual abuse is one of them. Waterboarding and other kinds of torture whose "effects" are not visible are others, but let's not go there.
    The reality is that, regardless of the kind of abuse, the victim cannot resist or defend him/herself for the simple reason that the object of abuse is injury and in risking additional injury in self-defense, the victim becomes the abuser's tool.
    On the other hand, because abuse requires an intervention, when authority stands silent, it becomes complicit. Authority taking the side of the abuser/rapist becomes a participant in the crime after the initial attack.

    It seems we've put a whole lot of people into positions of authority who do not know what exercising authority means. Some seem to think it simply involves giving and passing on orders. Authority, most often, means to call a halt and since, in a democracy, the people are the ultimate authority, we'd got to call a halt to what's going on with our military. We've elected representatives to Congress to do that.  If they don't, we've got to elect another batch.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:57:50 AM PDT

    •  Not sure about what point you're focusing on (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hannah, llbear, corvaire, DaNang65, drnatrl

      in what I wrote, and not quite sure what it has to do with the VA not doing the right thing in addressing veterans concerns. But yes, I basically agree that authority (in this case VA and DoD administrators) if it wishes to follow through on the stated principles of the organization(s) it seeks to serve in accepting a paycheck, should stand by those principles even if it implies increased expenditures and increased workloads for their organizations to do the right thing. I think we agree on that if I'm reading your point right.

      I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

      by dannyboy1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:18:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  While I believe in the need for the VA to address (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dannyboy1, drnatrl

    the issues raised in the legislation, the disability rights of men and women abused while in the military, I worry that the Veterans Benefits Administration is about to collapse. The only way to allow the VBA to dig out of the mess it currently has is to give it another 24 months before implementing The Ruth Moore Act.

    My suggestion is not fair, but, I hope, is a way to make sure that we don't kill the VBA while trying to provide help to the women and men who need it.

    Those who fought the war in Afghanistan won it. Get them out of Afghanistan NOW . . . It's long past time. To vote for me at NN13: \a< Thank you

    by llbear on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 12:32:29 PM PDT

    •  llbear, what should we do that's fair? (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      llbear, DaNang65, dannyboy1, drnatrl

      Other than fix the $#@%!& budgeting process and raise some revenue from the beneficiaries of all the wars we've fought in my lifetime, none of which we declared as actual wars through the Congressional process, so that the people who fought and bled and sweated but didn't die "over there so we don't have to fight them over here" don't continue to have to fight against what look like Thermopylean odds now that they're home?

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 12:46:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you, Blacksheep1 (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlackSheep1, llbear, drnatrl

        I think I understand where Ilbear's coming from too. However, I'm sure resources (more effectively and efficiently directed, and based on the magnitude of the problems, more resources period) would help a lot. Also, from what I'm gathering, good communications within and between parts of the organization is really bad. They're not making best use of human and material resources they've got, I'm sure.

        I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

        by dannyboy1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:34:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  we're lucky in West Texas (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          llbear, DaNang65, dannyboy1, drnatrl

          to have the Big Spring hospital. The North Texas hospital in Dallas is as good as something that big can be, too, I'm told.

          LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

          by BlackSheep1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:52:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Are the VA's women's clinics working well? (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DaNang65, dannyboy1, BlackSheep1, drnatrl

            The Portland VA's Women's Clinic is doing a great job - according to a woman with whom I talked about 45 minutes ago. [I had to pick up some pain meds.]

            Those who fought the war in Afghanistan won it. Get them out of Afghanistan NOW . . . It's long past time. To vote for me at NN13: \a< Thank you

            by llbear on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:15:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  from what I have seen (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              dannyboy1, drnatrl

              they seem to be.
              I understand UMC in Lubbock is planning to augment the Lubbock clinic's service to vets. Don't know how soon.

              LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

              by BlackSheep1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:20:21 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  I share your frustration. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlackSheep1, dannyboy1, drnatrl

        I wish I had an answer. I don't. But to throw these women into the current mess makes me think help could be deferred even longer.

        Those who fought the war in Afghanistan won it. Get them out of Afghanistan NOW . . . It's long past time. To vote for me at NN13: \a< Thank you

        by llbear on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:12:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I just wish we had a way to *fix* (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DaNang65, dannyboy1, drnatrl

          the Congress.
          Vote 'em out? Don't make me laugh. A job in Congress is a sinecure, and a fast ride on a heavy-duty gravy train too.

           Both cameras thereof have, IMNVHO, failed to lead, let alone to represent, and both are filled with self-satisfied preening grandstanders so isolated from their constituents that they can write stuff back in response like the reply I got from Randy Neugebauer today that President Obama hasn't given clear goals for NASA, so funding NASA is wasteful, yada yada yada.

          Some days, the stupid beyond burns.

          But as long as the parts of our government we depend on to answer the needs of our people depend on the Congress for funding, we're doomed to have to listen to these grandstanding naysaying fussbudget isolates and their nattering, negative nabobery.

          Apparently there's a law against changing their pay.
          Is there a law that we can't change their tax rates?
          Is there a law that we can't force them to NOT pile up campaign monies, and then after their campaigns stash the remainder in personal funds? (If it walks like a bribe, and quacks like a bribe, and looks like a bribe ...)

          LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

          by BlackSheep1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:20:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  It is quite a mess, Ilbear, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      llbear, DaNang65, drnatrl

      and knowing how close you've been to VBA-related issues, and based on what little I've been gathering over the last couple of months, broken could become something much worse (along with totally privatized) which would not make it any better in the end.

      I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

      by dannyboy1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:36:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  as a former submariner. . . (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DaNang65, dannyboy1, drnatrl

    and a long-time VA patron (just checkups and such and no serious stuff so far). . .I am not surprised by this news you report, dannyboy1. In fact, I am hearing a lot of scuttlebutt how the VA system is going back to its poor-time ratings that were popular in the 60s and 70s. I'm with the Albuquerque VA, which is still pretty good, but there are many VA outlets, including VA policies (such as this diarist presented) that are just plain RONG. Question is: What are, as a united community, going to do about this latest wrench tossed into the works? Someone running the helm of the VA is deliberately taking the vessel to the shoals.

    Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

    by richholtzin on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 02:26:15 PM PDT

    •  Thank you, rich, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DaNang65, drnatrl

      After attending the compensation and disabilities advisory group meeting, I just started getting educated in the last couple of months. As I get closer to the issues, I'm seeing a lot of very concerned individuals (often from VSOs) but haven't had much opportunity to talk directly with VA officials in this realm. I did work with quite a few on the education side as Post 9/11 GI Bill rolled out and as they went through the poop-storm early on, many were outspoken about fixing the mess. They did make lots of progress on the education side but I'm sure there's no comparison to the size and complexity of the problems involved. Right now, I'm going to keep trying to learn and share. I'm open for whatever my brothers and sisters think might work to help things along. Ilbear's cautions are well-founded and he's been much closer to the issues than a lot of folks. It's very thorny territory.

      I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

      by dannyboy1 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 04:30:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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