Thursday, January 29, 2009

They better pray they're right

Laura Watterson: I'll just start off.  This is very difficult.  I don't usually come out of my bedroom so coming all the way to DC is a little, well, freaking me out.  But however uncomfortable I may be, I think it is more important that I be here instead of worrying about my own problems because this really needs to be done.  [. . .]
When I entered the Air Force, I seriously considered making it a career for myself.  I wanted to travel and I wanted to have a stable life and career.  After I was assaulted, I no longer trusted anyone on base and my career was no longer an option for me.  Because of my MST and PTSD that resulted from it, I was forced to move in with my mother at the age of thirty because I could not take care of myself, keep a job or feel safe even in my own apartment.  I lived on cereal and microwaveable dinners so I did not end up causing a fire because I forgot that I was cooking something.  I was so depressed that I actually quit smoking because the task of actually picking up a cigarette and lighting it was just too much.  Of course, my doctors were happy about that but . . .     
I had crying fits that were so powerful I could not even get my head off of wherever it landed because of exhaustion.  One time my head landed in my shoe.  And it would leave me hoarse for three days from crying so hard. I have gained over sixty pounds and I would go into violent rages.  One time I ransacked the house to find every present I had ever given my mother, smashed them to bits and dumped them on her bed.   I would swear at her and throw things at her as if I had Tourette Syndrome.  Any attempt at communication with me, I would just flip her off.  This behavior was . . . I had never treated my mother like this before.  I didn't understand why this was happening and it ruined my self-esteem that much further.         
I have missed most family functions since being in the Air Force because I am unable to be around many people -- especially people who are asking a lot of personal questions like "Oh, how is life?  What are you up to? What are you doing?"  That kind of brings the family celebration down a little.  It has been only recently that I would even leave my bedroom.  I used to have very good credit.  And I was very proud of that.  Because of not being able to pay my bills because I could not keep a job -- just recently I had an attempt to have my wages garnished.  I was too afraid to wear anything at all 'inviting'.  I.e. I would wear men's clothing, usually in all black and several sizes too big.  I didn't want anyone to find me approachable.  I'm afraid of being assaulted again.  I used to have my hair and make up and nails match every day, no matter what I was wearing, for years.  Now, with the exception of today, I would only wear chapstick and stick my hair up in a bun.  And I rarely, if ever, painted my nails.  I don't have the energy to look good due to depression.  I have had meltdowns in the super market because if I saw someone -- especially if it was a man -- I knew they were stalking me and I would run from the grocery store.
My marriage to a man who I am still friends with ended due to my PTSD symptoms. I didn't realize why I was acting the way I was and neither did he.  Nonetheless, it ruined our marriage.  That's probably the hardest part [crying], excuse me.
I began . . . I began therapy at the VA because I had lost everything as a result.  I began to see patterns and realized that I needed to get my life back.  I realize that there are many other people who need to be helped to get back on track as well and that is also why I am a Veteran Advocate myself -- out of my bedroom and out of my own pocket. 
Part of my wellness is testifying today, forcing me to get out and do things that are challenging because they're more important.  I'll leave here today but hopefully my message will not leave.  If I had a caring SARC representative I believe I would not have ended up in the mess that I have ended up in.  I was never given a representative when I called to have some assistance.  No one came.  It got to the point that I called the 15th Air Force Commander who was in charge of the entire western half of the United States and whose name was also in all of the sexual assault booklets, leaflets and --
Since basic training, we'd all been taught the same thing.  I trusted in that.  I also trusted because I had friends before I went in, "Aren't you afraid after the sexual harassment, the whole Tail-hook thing?" I was like, "No.  With all this media why would they -- they must be really careful about it now."
The 15th Air Force Commander said, "Well why don't you just keep this on base, have them take care of it?"  They wouldn't.  I reported it as I was supposed to -- to my supervisor, as well as his.  They said it would be taken care of and I trusted that.   
Two weeks later, I was at work and everyone was asked to stand up because there was going to be a pinning-on ceremony.     
That pinning-on ceremony was for the man who assaulted me to now outrank me and become a supervisor.  He was rewarded.
This was when I got very angry.  After fighting and calling everyone I could possibly think of, my commander finally called me into his office with my supervisor who assaulted me here [call this Point A], the guy who assaulted me [Point B], my chair [Point C -- so they are seated right next to each other] and his supervisor [Point D]. So I was not even close to my supervisor, the one who should be protecting me or making me feel safe. 
I was told by my commander that I needed to understand that, "Different people have different personal bubbles. For example, when you go to England, sometimes when you meet people over there and you shake their hand, they like to hold on to your hand while they're speaking and, as Americans, because we don't do that, it's uncomfortable for us."  And that is how he told me that I needed to get over what had happened.
That is when I became --
I started drinking obscene amounts.  Again, not knowing anything about PTSD, I started having, you know, yelling at my husband over the stupidest things and having absolute fits of rage.  And, again, this is not me.  
After this meeting I had with my commander, my SARC, or whatever he was called at the time, offered me therapy.  I asked if it was going to be someone on base or if it was going to be civilian?   He told me it was going to be from someone on base and from the treatment that I had gotten so far to try and help me there was no way I was going to trust another military member to tell them how I felt and what was going on.  So when I refused help, they had me sign a waiver saying that because I refused treatment I was not going to be eligible for any VA treatment or benefits.  I, of course, did not realize that that was a load of malarkey until several years later when I had to go to the VA because I couldn't handle my own life.
I was also told that punishment of my perpetrator was not my business.  I think that is -- I don't know for sure what the real rule is about that now, but it is definitely the business because I trusted them in the first place to take care of it and promoting him two weeks later is not promoting it -- sorry, fixing it.
All of the evidence that had been in my files about this was sanitized.  This is a normal and way too often thing that happens with files.  Things that are important that would have some thing to do with a claim are taken out of your files so, when you request them, over half of your file is no longer there.  So trying to fight the VA to get benefits is next to impossible because there's no proof any more -- even if you reported it to the on base police, even if you reported it to anybody who would listen, like I did, nothing. This, again, makes us trust the government even less.
I would be afraid even when the phone rang.  That could make me cry.  A few months ago, I was at a friend's house and her washing machine turned on and I had a panic attack from that.  I don't know why.  I have panic attacks all the time for the oddest reasons, I'm sure.  As I get further in my treatment I will figure out why certain things trigger me. 
I believe that there are some good SARCs but not enough.  The SARCs need to be on top of their game.  The victim is not going to seek out help.  They're going to do what I did.  They're going to stay in their room and drink.  They're not going to trust anybody else to go help them.  I also believe that a SARC should not be a dependent of a military member because the way that they would run their case may be far too influenced by their fear that if they go against the way the command is saying things should be done, that it could be detrimental to their spouse's career.   
Excuse me just a second.
The SARC also needs to be able to have complete confidentiality.  The things that a victim says and does with their SARC needs to be completely confidential.  It is maybe a month or two ago that a victim's SARC was subpoenaed to testify against their own victim.  And of course, they had no choice.
Just like you're doing now, let the MST victims be involved in the training of SARC personnel.  They know how it feels, they know what needs to be changed.  And commanders also need to be accountable when it comes to the rapist.  
We have plenty of rules that are not worth the paper that they are printed on.  For example, if somebody has done a sexual assault  it is supposed to stay in their record, they are supposed to sign up as -- on the -- I'm sorry, I'm blanking on the name but whatever the civilian thing is that a sex offender has to register under, that's a rule. I've had very little -- in fact, I don't think I've ever seen that done now that I'm even doing advocacy work for people who are still in.  The next base they [assailants] go to, that file does not follow them so the next command does not know it.  They are put in the same situation and they know they can get away with it.  I do not believe a lot of the rumors and the little two-bit ideas that most people have about "Well, it's the alcohol, well, women shouldn't be in the military, well, well, well." I believe it is due to the consistent and rewarded attitudes of misogyny.  Thinking that women -- and also men -- there's plenty of men that I've worked with who have been sexually assaulted as well.  They need to be able to be safe, feel like they have been taken care of  and when you find out that a person who has sexually assaulted you did it at the last base, where is the safety?
I felt like I was entering the band of the brothers as their sister.  I was then an outcast.  Alone.  And challenged on everything I did.   
There is also the Troops to Teachers Act.      
so when the person who sexually assaulted a member, when they get out of the Air Force,  or any Coast Guard or whatever, so they get to go be [. . .]  teachers and their file does not follow them because they have not registered as a sex offender.  So they get to be in schools with children as a sex offender.
That's Laura Watterson's testimony to the Military Personnel Subcommittee yesterday, chaired by US House Rep Susan Davis.  The subcommittee is part of the US House Armed Services Committee and watch the military reaction in the following exchange when US House Rep Loretta Sanchez proposes an accountability measure.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez:  Thank you, Madame Chair and thank you to all the panel for being here.  I have just one question because in the 12 years that I have been on this committee and in the Congress, we've had this problem and I believe it is a major problem.   When we are a volunteer force in particular and when we are looking at 50% of Americans being women and the fact that we need to draw the talents from that pool just as we do from the men.  And I believe women should be in the military.  And that this problem is continuing to happen and has for so many years . . . drives me crazy.  We were able to pass, as you know, a new UCMJ section that dealt with this and I hear back from the prosecutors that they love using this new law, that they are more effectively using it to get the prosecutions that they need.  But you know I've always said that there are three things that we need to do.  One, change the culture.  Two, change the law so that we do prosecute and we can prosecute.  And three, work well with those who, the victims who have had this happen and make sure that they don't lose their lives.  So let's go back to the first one: Change the culture. Because this shouldn't be happening at all.   I've zero tolerance for this.  And it seems to me that no matter what we try, no matter how many rules we put on and how many administrative issues and everything, it all comes down to how the top is handling this.  How the commander handles this, where ever it is, whether it's Iraq or the Air Force Academy or whether it's a base in Camp Pendleton in California or where ever it might be, that it's really about how the chain of command deals with this.  And they don't seem to deal with this very well.  And so my question is to Ms. Watterson who so bravely came forward today and I thank you for that because I, believe it or not, I personally know how difficult it is.  Uhm.  It's been my contention that the only way we're going to make the command understand how important this issue is is that it's actually a section on every promotion that they receive.  That in order for them to be promoted, they have to deal with, "What did you do about this?  How much of this has happened under you?  How come you were ineffective about this?"  And that they don't get promoted if they don't take this seriously.  Now that runs counter to so many people who say "Oh, we're just care about making fighting machines."  Ms. Watterson, do you think that if these people in command that you go to thought that if they didn't handle this correctly or didn't make an attempt to handle it, if they thought they would lose their ability to be promoted, that they might have taken this more seriously for you?
Laura Watterson: Yeah, that sounds like an excellent idea. That way they're held accountable. 
Loretta Sanchez: Because they're not held accountable.  This is not an accountability issue for the people in uniform.  Some do it well.  Some don't do it very well.  Some say, "Oh, the handshake was just a little too long."  Or, "Take care of it yourself." Or, "You're a big girl." And these are all things that I have heard from so many women who have been put in this spot.  So do you think that that would make a difference if they thought that they wouldn't get promoted if they just told you to handle it yourself?
Laura Watterson: I think that would be a great incentive.  I think that part of it should also be interview or contact with whoever the victim was and ask them how they were treated and if they think that everything was done fairly?
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Now that would be part of it.  I mean, the way that we would judge whether this person, whomever was actully in command, took care of it would be that there would be some input from those that had suffered the acts and had been treated one way or the other by this person.  What about the rest of you?  What do you think?  Because you probably come across some commanders who really care about this thing and really do something right away about it and you probably come across people who sort of move the pieces on the checker board around.  What do you'll think?  Captain?
Capt Daniel Katka: Well, ma'am, in the ten seconds we have, you know, a culture change, I would love to be able to see genuine.  Disingenuous, uhm, using people as ranks, and things like that, perhaps would promote disingenous culture change. Rather than real cultural change.  Completely my opinion.  But I understand where you're going and in a criteria issue, what would you put in that promotion?  What would be, you know, the criteria for that promotoin, the statistics -- if statistics are up, is that good on the commander?  Or is that bad on the commander? So there are a lot of questions that I just immediately have that we probably don't have time, maybe, to get into.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you.  Chief?
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: I agree ma'am that if it were done right it would be an effective way of pushing the program forward.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: That is would not or would be?
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: That is would.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez:  That it would.
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: But again that  would be a threat.  That's my opinion
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: I'm just asking your opinion.  It's not threats.  It's sort of like this is important to us for you to be graded on.  I mean when you go to a class in college, you, if you're a smart student, you understand what the professor wants and what they're going to grade you on.  And you tend to work on those issues that are going to get you the A if you care about the grade.
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: I can see it being effective.  [. . .] I can see that a soldier may look on that as being more important if they see it officially in their paperwork, yes.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you. Chief?.
US House Rep: Susan Davis: Thank you, Ms. Sanchez.  [To Chief McKennie] Can you respond really quickly?
Chief Petty Officer Tonya D. McKennie: I can.  I believe that it would be effective but it would also take training as well in combination with that.  So that it would be genuine and effective. 
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you. Thank you, Madame Chair.
The idea that adding a grading measure to performance evaluation -- one grading measure -- is cause for a freak out goes to the problem with the culture.  Grading measures are added all the time.  What caused the freak out was that a military culture that refuses to take assaults seriously might be graded on their response.  As if supervision wasn't already needed?  Sanchez was 100% correct, it's not a threat.  It's a criteria.  And commanders are supposed to be responsible supervisors so they should be graded on how they are handling -- or not handling -- sexual assault complaints. We covered the hearing yesterday and will cover some more of it tomorrow.  Kat offered some of her observations of the hearing here.  [She also covered last night's theme of rumors as did Mike's "Barney, Debra Sweet," Rebecca's "rod stewart," Marcia's "Porn Star ON-J," "Eddie Murphy," Trina's "The cross dressing J. Edgar Hoover," Ruth's "Liberace," Stan's "Wonder Years rocker," Elaine's "Paul is dead" and Kat's "When I tried to smoke a banana." -- You just mentioned Kat! Yes, and she says it will be easier for people to copy and paste the theme posts if I toss her in there.  Cedric's "How to make the economy worse" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! FIX THE ECONOMY BY CUTTING JOBS!" continued there humorous joint-posts.]
From sexual assault to all kinds of assault including domestic abuse, on the prime time special yesterday of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Couric filed a report on spousal abuse in the military noting that "more than 25,000 spouses and domestic partners have been attacked over the past decade.  Nearly 90 spouses have died."  Among those she spoke with was Jessacia Patton about Patton's husband Lenny McIntire.  Below is a transcript to the online bonus footage of their interview:
Katie Couric: He went to Iraq, came back.  How had he changed once he came back?
Jessacia Patton: He hardly ever slept.  He was awake all the time.  Didn't want to be at home.  Didn't want to be around me, Bella [their daughter], couldn't take the crying, didn't like the noise we made when we ate.  He was always out at bars.  I'd come home from work and he'd have girls over at the apartment.  And -- and, just never wanted to be around us.  Always was always about the [Army] Rangers and I just didn't take into that life.  I didn't -- I grew up in Washington, around Fort Lewis, I had my own friends.  And that made it really hard too, the fact that I didn't pay enough attention to him, I was paid too much attention to our infant daughter than him.  That sparkle that he used to  have, that I fell in love with was gone.  He was just blank in the eyes and angry and mad all the time. 
Katie Couric: When you were having problems initially when he first came home, did you contact anyone at the base or anyone with the US military? 
Jessacia Patton: We went to the chapel and I talked to the chaplain --
Katie Couric: Together with your husband?
Jessacia Patton: Mmm-hmm.  And then I went separately by myself.  And if you're not there with your spouse, you don't get any help.  They'll just push you off to someone else.  "Well, we can't help you.  But go to this service, they can help you."  So then we go to another service.  "Go to Family Advocate, they can help you."  Somebody else can always help you.  "Call LG, he can help you." And they "We can't help you but go here".
Katie Couric: So they gave you the run around?
Jessacia Patton: Mmm-hmm. I came home and she had a bloody lip and there's red blood all over her face and he'd just left her in her crib.  I said, "What happened?"  "Well the dogs jumped on her."  "How did the dogs jump on her?"  She doesn't even crawl, she just lays on the ground or is held.
Katie Couric: How old is she?
Jessacia Patton: Five months old.   And he said, "Well the dogs must have done it."
Katie Couric: Four months later, he attacked again, but this time you were the victim.
Jessacia Patton: I'm glad my daughter wasn't.  I'm not glad that it happened but I'm glad that Bella wasn't there because it could have been much worse.
Katie Couric:  What happened?
Jessacia Patton: If I just could have run a little bit faster I might have made it but he tackled me out back and started kicking and hitting me and I started screaming for help but nobody came.  And that's when he grabbed my face and slammed it into the ground and said that if I yelled again, he would kill me right there. Cause after the incident, I went to the chaplain and I'm crying and I need help and I don't know who to turn to and I went to the Rangers even though he's not in the battalion anymore and they're like, "Well we washed our hands of him."  And I went to his battalion and nobody would help me out.  Nobody -- and being a civilian, how do you deal with martial law?  I don't know martial law.  So I'm stuck in between --
Katie Couric: Or military law.
Jessacia Patton: Yeah. I'm just in that gray area. 
Katie Couric: Well having been through what you've been through, what do you think is the major flaw in the way the US military, at least in your experience deals with domestic violence?

Jessacia Patton: I think that spouses don't get enough attention.  When it's a soldier then soldiers get all the attention.  But when a soldier beats his wife, the wife falls through the crack.  They make it very impossible to get through the system and get anything done.  You just get the run around.  They need to listen to military wives.  They need to have something -- some organization, some club something set up that a wife can go into and speak about this instead of just getting shrugged off because problems just get worse.
In the report last night, Couric explained that even though he later entered a guilty plea to child abuse, even though "he attacked and raped his wife," it was only when "threatened his fellow soldiers and went AWOL that the Army decided to press charges. Three weeks ago, he was sentenced to seven years in a military prison." This evening, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric tells Sgt James Pitts' story.  On a related noted, David Morgan and Philip Barbara (Reuters) report that US Army suicides have increased eleven percent continuing the increase that has been evident "among active duty soldiers and reservists since 2004."

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