Here’s Protect Our Defenders’ monthly news roundup covering current issues for veterans and active duty service members who are survivors of sexual assault.
Selective Censorship Undermines Military
- Maribel Jarzabek, a former Air Force Special Victim Counsel (SVC), faced retaliation late last year after speaking out in support of reform. This month she took the Air Force to task for punishing servicemembers who speak out against the DoD party-line, arguing, “All service members should be able to share their unique perspective, not just those with which the military brass agree” in a USA TODAY Editorial.
- The Air Force’s selective censorship “tears away at unit cohesion and military readiness,” says a column in the Air Force Times.
Defense Secretary Responds to Military Sexual Assault
- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand questioned Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at his confirmation hearing about the mishandling of sexual assaults in the military. Carter said he was grateful to Gillibrand for keeping the heat on the issue and acknowledged that retaliation against victims is “widespread” in a video from the Washington Post.
Survey of the Academies Show Hostile Climates
- According to a recently released DoD survey, 1 in 12 students experienced unwanted sexual contact during 2014, and of students who reported the crime, 40% faced retaliation. In addition, half of all female students faced sexual harassment. POD was the go-to source for analysis about the annual survey.
- “Protect our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military, said the latest report shows persistent problems despite efforts to solve them… and hurt the reputation of our academies,” reported the Baltimore Sun.
Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Military Sex Offenders are Registered
- Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the Military Track, Register and Alert Communities (TRAC) Act. The bill would close the loophole that allows convicted sex offenders in the military to return to civilian life without registering as a sex offender. At a press conference in D.C., I joined Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Mike Coffman to introduce the bill, as reported in Stars and Stripes.
- Speier is optimistic about the bill moving forward, said CBS.
Veteran Thrives Through Opera Music
- “I remember the day I asked for help,” says Army veteran Kela Thomas. Thomas was raped while serving in the military and is now a professional opera singer. “Right now it’s about living, it’s about growing, it’s about singing,” Thomas says in this First Coast News video.
Victory for MST Survivor Who was Denied Benefits
- Congratulations to veteran and survivor Heath Philips, who after over 20 years of struggling, has finally won VA benefits. With the support of POD and Sen. Gillibrand, who pursued the case for her constituent, a court recently ruled that Heath is entitled to both VA health care and disability benefits. We are thrilled for Heath. But it is a national disgrace that veterans continue to be denied benefits. Heath wrote us: “I want to thank POD and their staff. They connected me with several people who helped. Sen. Gillibrand was a huge factor in not only being dedicated in helping military sexual assault survivors, but for taking the time to personally help me with my fight with the VA. There are many people who have had my back through thick and thin — Terri Odom and several more. When I felt broken and wanted to give in they pulled me up…because of your support, I continued to fight and finally won, and I now am 100% service connected.”
We will continue to work directly with veterans like Heath through our Pro Bono Network and to advocate for reforms that support veterans on the Hill.
Protect Our Defender’s 2014 Annual Report
- Our Annual Report is now available online. It was a momentous year for POD, thanks to the determination of our growing community. We encourage you to take a look back through the year here.