Transcript: Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah Arbogast’s testimony on military sexual assault, PTSD & suicides

Partial transcript of testimony of Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.), 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:

Madam Chairman, distinguished members of this committee, I am sadden to be here but thankful for the opportunity to share my testimony.

I wouldn’t be here without the love and support of my amazing wife and caregiver, Tiffany [sp] Arbogast.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that MST [military sexual trauma] survivors who struggle day-to-day or losing their will to live while fighting for much-needed benefits, stability, and validations for the crimes committed against them along with the MST victims who are no longer with us due to suicide.

I’m a medically retired Lance Corporal who served in the United States Marine Corps.

I’m compelled by my oath to speak out about the injustices that have been done to survivors. The oath that I took has no expiration date.

I urge each of you to stand with survivors of military sexual assault and to take proactive steps to fix the broken system of justice and survivor response.

I’m a male survivor of military sexual trauma. I was drugged, rendered incapacitated, and sexually assaulted by my former Staff Sergeant from a previous command – a fellow Marine – while on active duty.

After this heinous crime, I was humiliated at the thought of my helplessness while a man and a fellow Marine took advantage of me sexually.

After two months of nightmares, anxiety, depression, and confusion, my world as I knew it was falling apart. I feared being blamed and retaliated against and I was embarrassed.

With the last shred of dignity, I turned to a base social worker who felt it was her obligation to report the sexual assault to NCIS.

When NCIS started the investigation, they informed me I needed to provide proof of the assault. I felt humiliated because other individuals were now aware of what happened.

At a point during the investigation, I was forced to provide proof by confronting my rapist to try to get a confession. I was asked to make repeated recorded phone calls and then go to his home while wearing a body wire.

I asked him to tell me what happened. I got a full confession, which I accomplished.

My perpetrator was arrested and charged with several counts, including sexual assault and sodomy. The trial lasted a week.

Even with overwhelming evidence, the court found him guilty of lesser charges. The court decided that he would receive a bad conduct discharge, no jail time, and they took his 23 years of service as kudos.

He was ordered to NCIS headquarters, fingerprinting, where they determined he dulled the skin from his finger tips on both hands so he cannot be fingerprinted.

He refused to register on the sex offenders’ database by simply saying, “No, I don’t have to.”

Nothing was done, and to this day, I don’t know where my perpetrator is. Not knowing his location leaves me looking over my shoulders for the rest of my life.

I was not afforded the same rights as rape victims in the civilian world. Where are my choices?

While my perpetrator walked away with minimal consequences, I was formally retired from the U.S. Marine Corps due to military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I joined the Marines in order to serve my country as an honorable man. Instead, I was thrown away like a piece of garbage.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 90% of all rapists and serial rapists will commit an average of three to 600 rapes in a lifetime.

This is not just a military problem, and this is not just a problem within the military; it becomes a societal and national security risk to us all.

While I try to survive and hope that my life would be better, even years later, the constant stigmatization, personal attacks, ostracism, and PTSD was never-ending.

Choosing death was my way of taking responsibility for my circumstances. I simply haven’t found the resources to cope.

I sit here before you in this wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury that resulted in paraplegia from a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a nine millimeter handgun. I felt my death would spare my wife, daughter, and myself the dishonor the rape brought upon us.

This should send a clear statement of just how bad things can get in the lives of sexual assault survivors when they feel no hope and are not being offered the appropriate clinical support needed for them and their families.

The armed forces were severely remiss and still are today in the treatment of MST survivors.

The VA health care system is overloaded and fails to keep up with the sheer number of growing – sheer growing number of MST victims. The VA mental health system lags in offering male MST survivors male-specific support groups, which is badly and urgently needed for millions of male veterans suffering from MST.

22 veterans are taking their lives everyday – only 12 of which are combat-related.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that men who are denied proper counseling after rape are likely to attempt suicide at least twice in their lifetime. Therefore DOD and VA providers and all the military leaders need specific training in the nuances of trauma-related sexual assault, human sexuality, and the different effects of rape on both men and women.

The belief system about rape must change within the armed forces, and it will only change when the perpetrators are consistently prosecuted and no longer given leniency in their sentencing by their commanders.

In a recent article in the Military Times, a SAPRO [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] official was quoted as saying, “We need to tell perpetrators ‘Don’t rape’.” This approach will not stop rape in the military. You can’t train rapists not to commit rape. But you can stop them from harming anyone else.

Haven’t we heard enough stories of broken lives and lives lost that have been told in front of these committees?

This is an epidemic. In 2012, approximately 14,000 men and 12,000 women were sexually assaulted in the Armed Forces according to DOD’s own sexual assault prevention and response report.

DOD has been claiming to try to fix this problem for over 20 years and to no avail. Sorry to say we cannot take the attitude of wait and see, not even for one more year, which was the recommendation from our commander-in-chief.

Half measures do not work and neither do false promises.

We need Congress to move past ego and political stalemates. These perpetrators must be stopped from continuing their planned acts of terrorism against their fellow service members.

We need a justice system that ensures these criminals are held accountable for their crimes and preventing [them] from victimizing any other service members.

The first step to fixing this problem and ensuring the health and welfare of our service members must be creating a professional, impartial justice system because sexual assault is not an occupational hazard.

I and countless others have lost so much in this battle. These losses are nothing unless the DOD and VA leadership hear our pleas for more accountability, an end to victim-blaming and retaliation, and access to humane care for survivors.

Our service members deserve the same duty and courage from you in solving this epidemic, and its consequences that they have shown through their self-less sacrifices for this country. We expect nothing less from Congress when it comes accountability in providing adequate care to our nation’s warriors. Your help is needed so our military can continue to be the finest fighting force this world has known.

Before I close, I would like to leave you some words from Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in this world.”

Thank you.


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