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Investigation into the Sexual Assaults of Military Children

child assault

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. military has been derelict in its duty to protect and provide justice to the children of servicemembers when they are sexually assaulted by other children on base.

Tens of thousands of children and teenagers live and attend school on U.S. military bases while their parents serve the country. Yet if they are sexually violated by a classmate, a neighborhood kid or a sibling, they often get lost in a legal and bureaucratic netherworld. That’s because military law doesn’t apply to civilians, and the federal legal system that typically handles civilian crimes on base isn’t equipped or inclined to prosecute juveniles.

Reports of sexual violence among minors on U.S. military bases at home and abroad often only get as far as the desks of prosecutors. Many cases get lost in the system, with neither victim nor offender receiving help.

The Pentagon has rules and support systems to combat sexual violence among service members, but when it comes to student-on-student assaults, officials can only point to three paragraphs of guidelines that generally prohibit sexual harassment or “physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

As a result, reports of student sex assault languish.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have requested that the Pentagon’s inspector general begin a “comprehensive assessment” of department policies related to sexual assault among military children in schools and elsewhere on base.

“It disturbs us to learn that the department’s policies and procedures may prevent efforts to help child victims of misconduct … and to rehabilitate and hold child offenders accountable,” they wrote.

Pentagon school officials said they were developing new rules and guidance for reporting and responding to such violence. Officials also said the school system had appointed additional staff to advise families on their rights and available resources, among other reforms.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New VA Online Wizard Aims to Upgrade Your Discharge

va vets

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online wizard that will assist veterans who are seeking to upgrade their military discharges.

By going to the VA’s Vets.gov benefits website, participants go through a series of questions that guides them, step by step, through the upgrade process based on their individual situation.

This is an especially good tool for veterans who are trying to correct or upgrade “bad paper” discharges. Veterans with bad paper discharges have long complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration of their invisible wounds.

All branches of the military consider a strong case for a discharge upgrade if applicants can show their discharge was connected to any of these categories:

Mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Sexual assault or harassment during military service

Sexual orientation (including under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy)

By answering a series of questions, users get customized step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a discharge upgrade or correction. If their application goes through and the discharge is upgraded, these veterans will become eligible for the VA benefits they earned during their period of service.

If a previous upgrade application was denied, users can apply again, especially if the application is significantly different from the original. For example, the applicant may have additional evidence that wasn’t available during the original application was processed, or the Department of Defense (DoD) may have issued new rules regarding discharges. (DoD rules changed for discharges related to PTSD, TBI, and mental health in 2014, military sexual harassment and assault in 2017, and sexual orientation in 2011.)

The wizard will also assist those who require an updated DD214 or DD215 to reflect an upgrade.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Basics of Military Sexual Trauma

MST

By Debbie Gregory.

Since the allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood have come to light, those events have spurred conversations regarding the pervasiveness of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

But what exactly is and isn’t MST?

The term refers to the entire spectrum of incidents from sexual harassment (repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character) through actual sexual assault and rape. It also includes unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body or your sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances.

Physical force may not necessarily have been used, but coercion, threats or the pressure of negative consequences also qualify as MST.

It is not gender-specific, as the perpetrator and the victim can be of any gender: male, female, or transgendered.

Current figures provided on VA’s website are that 25 percent of women and one percent of men seen by VA healthcare report an MST history, numbers that are more than likely deflated due to under-reporting.

MST carries with it a shame and stigma for the victims, and men and women process the experience much differently. Male victims are more likely to question their sexuality and struggle with suicidal thoughts; whereas female victims are more likely to struggle with depression and social isolation.

It’s important to know that MST can occur on base or off base, during times of war or peace, while on duty or off duty. Perpetrators can be superiors or subordinates in the chain of command, or even civilians.

Even more important to remember is that MST is something that happened to you, it does not define you. It is not a diagnosis or a condition in and of itself.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Servicewomen and Female Vets

female veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Female military veterans run a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.

Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been focused on men.

Research regarding women in the military, especially in combat roles, is still a new and emerging area. Though the U.S. military has long provided camaraderie and a sense of purpose to men, it has been a harsher place for women.

Risk factors for female servicemember/veteran suicide may include: deployments in hostile environments, exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service and service related injuries. In addition, there are also general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness, financial problems, relationship issues.

The VA’s currently has the following suicide prevention initiatives and resources for women veterans in place:

  • Regional and national residential inpatient programs that either provide treatment to women only or have separate tracks for women and men.
  • Outpatient mental health services through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country.
  • Evidence-based therapies for PTSD that have been shown to decrease suicidal ideation, available at every VA medical center.
  • Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma.

Establishing mental health programs that are effective for women veterans will go a long way in ensuring they are receiving the best care possible, hopefully turning this issue around.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Four Star General Accused of Sexual Assault

lichte

By Debbie Gregory.

A retired four-star general, who at one point was head of Air Mobility Command, is being investigated for the alleged sexual assault of a female colonel who was under his command.

Retired Gen. Arthur Lichte is the subject of the investigation. Three incidents of alleged sexual assault occurred between April 2007 and April 2009.

Lichte, from New York City, entered the Air Force in 1971 as a distinguished graduate of Manhattan College’s ROTC program. He held command positions at squadron, group and wing levels.

In addition to his command experience, Lichte held headquarters-level assignments at Strategic Air Command, Air Mobility Command, the Air Force and U.S. Transportation Command. He retired on Jan. 1, 2010.

“The Air Force takes all allegations of sexual assault or harassment very seriously,” said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. “We are committed to upholding the high standards and values of our service and ensuring an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual assault or harassment is not tolerated, and where there is clear accountability placed on all airmen at every level.”

According to military justice experts, there’s very little guidance on how to prosecute such high-ranking officers, and there are significant barriers to doing so.

Generals are rarely brought to trial within the military justice system, much less convicted, and punishment is often just a demotion in rank. Many members of Congress would prefer that independent military prosecutors handle the cases rather than commanders.

Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, confirmed the investigation of the allegations against Lichte, but would not comment further or provide additional details about the case.

Victims of sexual assault in the military have two options to report it. They can file a “restricted” report, in which the victim does not identify the attacker and seeks counseling but does not require a criminal investigation. In an “unrestricted” report, as is the case with Lichte’s accuser, the matter is referred to the accuser’s unit commander and triggers a criminal investigation.

The Defense Department’s most recent annual report on sexual assault in the military counted more than 4,500 unrestricted reports and nearly 1,500 restricted reports in 2015. The survey results also indicate that over 16,000 service members intervened in situations they believed to be at risk for sexual assault.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: 11 More Army SHARP Centers: By Debbie Gregory

Sharp_logoBefore 2013, the U.S. Army didn’t have any sexual assault response centers. Soon, there will twelve.

In July, 2013, the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Center opened at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Washington. The center was the first of its kind for the Army, *****or***** any branch of the U.S. Military for that matter.

The SHARP Center consolidates legal, medical, mental health, advocacy and education services in one location. Previously, victims would have to go to different offices on base for each of these services, often having to revisit the traumatic experiences while speaking with advocates at each stop.

The one-stop SHARP Center is intended to make it easier for soldiers who have been victims of sexual assault to report misconduct, and seek any assistance that they need. Soldiers can go to the center to report a sexual assault, especially important if they don’t want to go through their units. Since misconduct can often stem from members of their unit’s leadership and involve parties that are familiar with each other, having to go through their own unit makes reporting the misconduct more stressful.

Soldiers and officers in leadership and command positions can also use the SHARP center to better serve their soldiers who have reported a sexual assault. Staff at the center provides them with information regarding the process of a case, and can help them to better understand what their soldier is going through.

The Army has announced plans to replicate the SHARP Center model at 11 other posts.

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Military Connection: 11 More Army SHARP Centers: By Debbie Gregory