December 4, 2013
Today, Cacilia Kim, the Senior Staff Attorney at the California Women’s Law Center, in partnership with Elizabeth Kristen from the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, represented a 19 year-old member of the U.S. Air Force who was sexually assaulted by a superior officer while serving his country.
Airman 1st Class Trent Smith was sexually assaulted while on duty at Vogelweh Air Base in Germany and following proper procedures, he reported his attack multiple times and sought counseling. Unfortunately, the Air Force misdiagnosed him with a personality disorder in response. Airman Smith was subsequently found unfit to serve because the Air Forced claimed that the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from his assault would not be treatable due to his misdiagnosed personality disorder.
Airman Smith is appealing this decision with the help of CWLC. We connected Airman Smith with an independent forensic psychiatrist and, thanks to funding from Protect Our Defenders, we were able to have an exhaustive battery of tests performed prior to today’s hearing. According to the independent forensic psychiatrist, there is no evidence of a personality disorder.
Tragically, if Airman Smith is unsuccessful in his appeal and the personality disorder diagnosis remains in effect, he will not only be discharged from the military but he will also loose the military health and disability benefits he deserves.
We are proud to stand up for all veterans who are survivors of sexual assault during their service. We must be vigilant in making sure that those who serve our country are not forced out of the military in retaliation for reporting their abuse and receive all the benefits they are due from their service.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2013 Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, firstname.lastname@example.org
*** PRESS RELEASE ***
AIRMAN AND VICTIM OF SEXUAL ASSAULT FORCED OUT OF MILITARY AFTER REPORTING ATTACK, MISDIAGNOSED WITH PERSONALITY DISORDER
Independent Forensic Psychiatrist says no evidence of a personality disorder in sexual assault victim profiled in Air Force Times series on retaliation and personality disorder misdiagnosis in the military — another example of a culture of victim-blaming as momentum continues to build for fundamental reform to an unfair military justice system
San Antonio, TX – In June 2012, 19 year-old Airman 1st Class Trent Smith was sexually assaulted by a superior non-commissioned officer while on duty at Vogelweh Air Base in Germany. Airman Smith reported his attack, not once but twice. After being assaulted by a superior non-commissioned officer, Airman Smith did everything by the book according to the Air Force Times — he reported the assault and received counseling. Instead of offering support, the Air Force focused on separating him from the career he loves and misdiagnosed him with a rare Personality Disorder (PD). Also, Airman Smith was told by the Air Force that the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he has suffered because of his assault would not be as responsive to treatment because of his “Personality Disorder” diagnosis. Earlier today the Air Force’s Formal Physical Evaluation Board met at Randolph AFB in San Antonio, Texas and found Airman Smith unfit to serve in the military, because of the PTSD he suffered from his attack.
Airman Smith appealed his initial Personality Disorder diagnosis, and contacted Protect Our Defenders for help with his case. Through its Pro Bono Legal Network, Protect our Defenders connected Airman Smith with pro bono counsel Cacilia Kim, from the California Women’s Law Center and Elizabeth Kristen, from the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. Protect Our Defenders and survivors would like to thank the attorneys for being part of our Pro Bono Legal Network – giving their time and expertise to help service members fight for justice.
Trent’s lawyers plan to appeal the Air Force’s decision. In response to the decision, Airman Smith said: “All I want to do is serve my country. I hope that our appeal is successful.”
Ms. Kim and Ms. Kristen, with funding support from POD, secured an independent psychiatric assessment of Airman Smith.
After conducting a thorough mental health assessment of Airman Smith, the forensic Psychiatrist concluded that there was no evidence of a Personality Disorder. He also found that Airman Smith’s PTSD was treatable with medication.
Ms. Kim, who also holds a doctorate in Psychology from University of California Los Angeles, said “an erroneous personality disorder can follow a service member throughout his life and have significant negative consequences for him.” Ms. Kristen added “a psychiatric diagnosis like a personality disorder could impact future employment for Airman Smith.”
In October, the Air Force Times published an investigative series, “They Accused Superiors of Assault & Harassment: Now their careers are over” which uncovered a culture of personality disorders misdiagnoses, and retaliation against victims of sexual assault in the military who reported their attacks. A profile of Airman Smith’s cases was one of the featured stories in the series.
Airman Smith’s removal from the military is just one more high profile example of victims being retaliated against for reporting their attack. It again exposes a culture within the military that blames victims, protects attackers, and clearly shows the need for reform to a broken justice system.
Next week, the United States Senate is expected to vote on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). A bipartisan majority of Senators, and 6 out of ten Americans support this common sense legislation, which would take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and begin to create an independent and impartial military justice system.
Since 2001, it is likely that thousands of soldiers have been given illegal Personality Disorder discharges, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. In 2006, the Air Force diagnosed PD among its population at double the frequency of the civilian population. And an internal DOD review concluded in 2008-09 that “only 8.9% [of PD discharges] were processed properly.” Many of these service members have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, or have been sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers while serving our country. Since they were discharged for a personality disorder they have limited access to related health or disability benefits from the military or Veterans Affairs.
Earlier this year, Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), introduced a bill that would require the review of cases in which soldiers were discharged for personality disorders. And Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently secured $65 million for the Pentagon to review cases of victims who were potentially wrongfully discharged because of an improper personality or adjustment disorder diagnosis.
Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish released the following statement about Airman Smith’s case:
“The treatment of Airman Trent Smith is sadly a typical example of the reckless disregard with which military leadership and health officials too often respond to reports of rape and sexual assault within the ranks. Just for coming forward, Airman Smith faces the loss of a promising career, and has been slapped with a patently false and damaging personality disorder diagnosis, which he could be forced to carry with him for the rest of his life.
“The barriers and retaliation that Airman Smith has faced are indicative of the suffering of so many unknown victims. After being sexually assaulted by another person in uniform, Smith sought military mental health services. Instead of supporting him and fostering his recovery, those same professionals used his vulnerable position to label him with a psychiatric disorder and attempted to drum him out of the service. Additionally, because he suffered PTSD from his attack and subsequent retaliation, he has been labeled unfit to serve in the Security Forces. Since he only recently enlisted, he is precluded from being retrained in a new field. Essentially, Airman Smith is paying the price for the criminal actions another service member perpetrated against him.
“At a time when the Department of Defense’s own statistics suggest that rapes and sexual assaults are vastly underreported, and 62 percent of victims say they faced retaliation after reporting, it is shocking that the military would continue the practice of turning victims’ allegations against them in an effort to expel them from their chosen careers. Brave men and women like Airman Smith have signed up to serve their country, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect when they bravely come forward to report these crimes. Instead, they are repeatedly retaliated against-labeled with errant psychiatric diagnoses and charged with collateral criminal charges. This is a travesty of justice and a stain on our military’s honor.
“Our service members deserve a justice system equal to the system afforded the civilians they protect.”
San Antonio Express-News: Military’s handling of sexual assaults a national shame
Air Force Times: ‘The doctors try to turn it around like you’re crazy’
Air Force Times: Fear of retaliation: The culture that prevents airmen from speaking up
USA Today: Prosecuting rapes in the ranks
Salon: Sen. Gillibrand: Chuck Hagel “has not shown leadership”
San Antonio Express-News: GI sex-assault victims face battle for disability benefits
Charlotte Observer: Give rape victims better military justice
Huffington Post: Command Sgt. Major Tim Walz’s New Mission: Getting Disability Benefits to Wounded Soldiers
About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization. We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.
Protect Our Defenders partners with Attorney Susan Burke, Burke PLLC to advance lawsuits filed against the DoD and service academies for repeatedly ignoring rape, sexual assault and harassment, failing to prosecute perpetrators and retaliating against the victim.
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