At a press conference in Washington today, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree called on the Department of Defense to change practices that have led tens of thousands of veterans to be improperly discharged from the military. A report out today by Human Rights Watch documents how many survivors of military sexual assault suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) improperly received “other than honorable” discharges—such as for a personality disorder or other pre-existing mental illness—after reporting their attacks.
“Being told you have a personality disorder when what you really have is PTSD is a slap in the face to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend this country,” Pingree said. “These discharges have been a way of sweeping veterans under the rug instead of dealing with the real problems at hand. This so-called ‘bad paper’makes it very difficult for the veterans to get the care they need and the benefits they’ve earned, and it’s almost impossible to change after the fact.”
Pingree joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (C-CT), a retired US Air Force Colonel, veterans who had been discharged under this policy, and representatives from Human Rights Watch at the news conference today.
The 124-page report, “Booted: Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors,” found that many rape victims suffering from trauma were unfairly discharged for a “personality disorder” or other mental health condition that makes them ineligible for benefits. Others were given “Other Than Honorable” discharges for misconduct related to the assault that shut them out of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system and a broad range of educational and financial assistance. The consequences of having “bad paper” (any discharge other than “honorable”) or being labeled as having a “personality disorder” are far-reaching for veterans and their families, impacting employment, child custody, health care, disability payments, burial rights – virtually all aspects of life.
Pingree told the story of one such veteran from Maine. Ruth Moore was sexually assaulted during her time in the Navy. After reporting her rape, she was sent to a Navyhospital where she was misdiagnosed with a personality disorder, discharged, and forced to relinquish her veteransbenefits. In the years afterward, she found some treatment options closed to her because of her diagnosis and it took her 23 years to finally receive benefits from the VA for the PTSD she suffered. Her attacker was never punished.
“The Department of Defense is getting better in how it treats veterans with PTSD, though it is still issuing too many personality disorder discharges for survivors of military sexual assault,” Pingree said. “But we have to do something for the veterans who have had to live with an inaccurate diagnosis on their permanent record for years. Under the current system, it’s nearly impossible for veterans to correct it. The Department of Defense should expedite cases of veterans who were wrongfully discharged—it can do so on its own, but I will introduce legislation if necessary.”
Pingree and Blumenthal are writing to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter this week, urging the Pentagon to reform their procedures for reviewing the cases of veterans improperly discharged after experiencing military sexual trauma.
Pingree has long been a leader in Congress on the issue of military sexual trauma (MST). She has introduced legislation, and pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs directly, to make it easier for survivors to receive benefits for the conditions they suffer because of their assault. She has also worked to change a question on the federal government’s security clearance form that has kept many MST survivors from seeking counseling for their assaults.