January 11, 2023
POD Files Amicus Brief on Mental Health Privilege as RAND Report Highlights Barriers to Mental Health Care Faced By Military Sexual Assault Survivors
Protect Our Defenders applaud’s the RAND report findings in the fight for improved mental health care treatment, access, and protected patient privilege for survivors of sexual assault and harrassment
Washington, DC – This week, RAND’s National Defense Research Institute released new research detailing mental health conditions, treatments, and access to care for servicemember survivors of sexual assault and harrassment. The research found that PTSD symptoms are more severe in individuals reporting sexual assault experiences compared to nonsexual traumas, and that mental health conditions like PTSD and depression are strongly linked with experiences of sexual assault. The findings illustrate the need for increased access to treatment programs for survivors of military sexual assault, and a better understanding of why barriers to such access currently exist.
RAND’s report preceded Protect Our Defenders’ Supreme Court amicus brief, filed today (No. 22-636, Nos. 22-506 and 22-535), which advocates for the protection of servicemembers’ psychotherapist-patient privilege, especially in cases of sexual assault. A recent Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) decision threatens the privilege, creating fear that a patient’s treatment and diagnosis based on their communications with mental health providers will be disclosed to their offenders. CAAF’s ruling has degraded mental health privileges previously protected under Military Rule of Evidence 513. This would be antithetical to the historic military justice legislation, passed in 2022 and improved in 2023 as part of the NDAA, that aims to make great improvements in tackling the military’s longstanding sexual assault epidemic.
Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United States Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, released the following statement:
“The recent adjustments to remove sexual harrassment from the purview of commanders in the 2023 NDAA solidified the legislation as the most transformative military justice reform in our nation’s history. As the latest RAND report detailed, the military’s treatment options for survivors of sexual assault and harassment remain dismal. Ensuring implementation of and progressing this reform is essential to military retention and readiness.
“Third party bodies – whether bicameral and bipartisan congressional leadership, advocacy organizations like Protect Our Defenders (POD), or research groups like RAND – are pivotal watchdogs to ensuring the military executes the law and protects all servicemembers.
“The military’s sexual assault and harassment crisis necessitates improved mental health treatment programs tailored specifically to servicemembers who experience PTSD, depression, and more. Further, servicemembers have a right to patient privacy in mental healthcare. POD’s latest amicus brief strikes at the heart of this issue, calling on the Supreme Court to tackle patient privilege in pursuit of survivors’ mental health treatment.
“The military’s sexual assault epidemic creates greater need for protected mental healthcare. Protect Our Defenders will continue to fight for all servicemembers to receive a fair chance at justice within the military justice system as well as the vital healthcare they are more than entitled to.”