Transcript: Former U.S. Army Private First Class Jessica Kenyon’s testimony on military sexual assault, PTSD & suicides

Partial transcript of testimony of Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army, on the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs handling of post traumatic stress disorders and suicides of service members who suffered military sexual assault. The hearing before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel was held on Feb. 26, 2014:

Distinguished members of the committee, I want to thank you for having me and affording me the opportunity to speak today.

I feel it is my duty as someone who is able and willing to speak on behalf of myself and those who are unable.

I want to thank my loving husband, Brendon Brinkman [sp], for his continued efforts in supporting me through this extremely difficult struggle, being there throughout unconditionally.

I also want to thank the rest of my family who has been there for me and those families who do all they can for other survivors with very little support for themselves.

I joined the military as an Apache crew chief in 2005, a year after the implementation of the new sexual assault regulations.

During the initial training, none of us received any training in what to do regarding in a real sexual assault situation.

The truth was at that point I had to Google what to do when it happened to me.

I immediately experienced the flaws and repercussions.

From there it was instance after instance of a failed system in which I became ostracized, singled out, publicly shamed, disciplined for getting treatment, and treated as though I was the one who did something wrong.

From my experience, I can speak clearly to the loopholes in the current system that allows commanders, perpetrators, investigators, and anyone with outside influences and conflicts of interests to distort justice and degrade the military discipline and readiness.

These loopholes perpetuate a current state of affairs that when a case is handled or mishandled I, like many others to this day, can be made an example of and held up as what will happen if you report anything.

This shows other victims as well as perpetrators how their crimes will be handled.

This [prompted] me to leave the military and inspired me to expose the injustices they allow.

I did not want anyone else to be put through what I was put through but I also saw the potential for much worse situations, and I could not stand for it, whether I was ready to leave the military or not.

Given the situation I was put in, I felt no other option than regretfully leaving the military.

My work to help other survivors and families and fix this broken system is my way to continue to serve our country.

Since my honorable medical discharge, I have worked with thousands of veterans, active duty, and their families.

I currently suffer from severe depression, bouts of insomnia, debilitating memories, thoughts, triggers of all sorts, anger, chattering in my head, constant anxiety to the point that I am forced to use all of my focus to appear normal, which hinders my abilities to read, write, have a conversation, remember much of anything in the short-term.

This level of keeping my head above water is where I have found what passes for a level of peace. While I do hope to improve it, it is a very hard road, and some days I’m not able to maintain my composure and my husband and loved ones bear the brunt of it. I have to live with that guilt everyday.

I’m just praying my son doesn’t ever know me like this or worse – what I was like before I gained some balance.

Most of my scars are invisible so my needs are treated as less than important.

The current command environment makes it hard to keep outside influences away from all criminal cases in a command regardless of a commander’s view or the unit’s view of them as commanders.

Removing all judicial punishment decisions from the command will keep them clear of all repercussions, including to their command, their career, and their general morale of the unit.

Leaving judicial punishment with commanders is not just a problem in the mishandling of sexual assault cases with the victim-blaming, and I have experienced it as well as others.

A command environment is simply not a top-down environment. A new commander may take command in an established structure, and the destruction of this structure regardless of how honorable their intentions can lead challenges to that command.

This removal of the judicial punishments from the command would remove conflicts both to and from the commander. This also prevents a commander from lessening the charges to whatever it keeps in the command or at its lowest levels either out of concern that the accused’s talents would be lost or the command would look bad.

As of right now, there’s no accountability for those who mishandle cases.

But even if the commander wants to do the right thing, there’s often pressure from the top to make it go away or downplay the severity. Discipline problems within a command will usually reflected on the service record and cost them promotions.

This environment – this is not [an] environment for justice for victims or perpetrators or commanders.

As it currently stands, the VA handles sexual assault in the military similar to civilian cases. But it is critical to note psychologically they are very different. I have found that it is much closer psychologically to the result of incest and should be treated as such.

A civilian sexual assault [approach] does not address the inherent trust victims give their command nor the betrayal of that trust when a sexual assault occurs and the subsequent case is mishandled. This continues to be true even if the case is handled properly.

Survivors of sexual assault like many others suffer from PTSD are rarely in a state emotionally, financially or otherwise to navigate the complex and detailed paperwork and procedures that the VA requires for a rating.

This paperwork barrier [to] receiving assistance often exacerbates the survivors’ issues and all too often driving them to the point of poverty, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, and much, much more.

Rather than proper counseling, it is often the case that medications are prescribed. Many times pills are almost immediately prescribed to their various VA caregivers with no experience of what they might actually do to the mental health of the individual other than the list of warnings, which are often not taken seriously.

These mountain of drugs are also being mixed and matched constantly and most of which were never supposed to be mixed with anything other, let alone the numbers in which the VA doles them out. It is not uncommon to hear veterans being prescribed dozens of medications at a time.

In more than a few cases, caregivers will refuse treatment if the individual refuse to take the prescribed drugs, despite their helping or making things worse. The survivors have little to no recourse if things were to go wrong.

For those of us who do not wish to be drowned in psychoactive drugs, many of our cases are left to wither and our wellness opportunities are hard to come by or are too expensive or unavailable.

There’s no right way to have PTSD, and therefore no cookie-cutter treatment is what most need.

Offering and supporting programs and caregivers outside of the VA would go a long way to lifting their burden.

I also want to point out that service women are more than twice as likely to have PTSD but only half as often to get diagnosed with it. They are more likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder or an adjustment disorder.

Thank you.

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