Transcript: Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Q&A w/ Jeremiah Arbogast & Jessica Kenyon on military sexual assault, PTSD & suicides

Partial transcript of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Missouri) Q&A with Jeremiah Arbogast and Jessica Kenyon 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:

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri):
…First and most importantly, I always stand in awe of those of you have been victimized by this horrific crime and step out of the shadows and not only try to seek justice but then go on and try to do even more. And I think while there are some policy differences in the United States Senate, I think we are all such fans of your courage and your tenacity. So I want to thank you very much for that.

You know, as somebody who spent years as a sex crimes prosecutor and walked into the courtroom hand-in-hand with hundreds of victims, I am painfully aware of the shortcomings of victim services for this crime no matter where it occurs.

And one of the things that I wanted to visit briefly with both of you about is first I want to thank the military because I think it is the research and the recognition of PTSD that has allowed the civilian criminal justice system to begin to get their arms around the fact – I think most of the victims I worked with in the late ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s were suffering from PTSD, and those that were the victims of domestic violence were suffering from PTSD. And our ability to treat this and prevent suicide as a result of this absolutely insidious illness should be at the top of all of our list.

And so I think now at least we are beginning to recognize the problem. We’ve got a ways to go obviously with having the service tailored to the type of stress and trauma that has brought about this illness and I think that’s what we’re all focused on trying to do now.

If either one of you at the moment you reported whether it was to a social worker or at a hospital or whether it was restricted or unrestricted, if at that moment you had gotten your own lawyer whose only job was to look out for you, do you think it could have made a difference in terms of how you were treated as you navigated this difficult process and the services that you might have been provided?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Thank you, Senator. I do believe a lawyer would be helpful, especially one that is impartial and not in my command or in any way related. I also – I’ve personally been working on almost a type of Miranda rights where you can go to anybody as a survivor of sexual assault and they have to tell you what your rights are before you move forward that way you knew – I mean, you didn’t accidentally go to your commander and now you can’t report restricted. I mean, that was something that happened to me and that my commander then later made promises that made me confident in the fact that he would lie to me.

That being said, between the lawyer as well as just being very upfront – the commanders, priests, clergy, lawyers, anybody involved in that system should be upfront with what a survivor is allowed to do at that point before he or she can make a decision in that regard.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri):
Do you think it would have helped you?

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
Senator, I really don’t know because I was young at the time. I can’t say because everything was kind of fast-paced. You know, I went from falling apart to “Where to do I go?” to going to a social worker and everything just trickling down from there. And was I told about anything about “Hey, these are your rights, and you can have your own attorney” – I think that would have helped as being somebody that was advocated that’s not biased within the chain of command for the simple fact is it’s ’cause you don’t know if that person maybe advocating for you or your so-called lawyer – I don’t know if you’re referring to a civilian lawyer or a military lawyer – you don’t know if that’s a golfing buddy or somewhere down the line that they know each other and they go back and tell your personal information. And then – you know, where I’ve had this happen is people found out about my situation from being talked about, and it’s like “How did they find out?”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri):
I just – I know that when I was prosecutor, there were sometimes victims that declined to go forward even after we’ve gone through a lot of the process and I felt very strongly that the case could be successfully prosecuted and the victim – for a lot of reasons, including mental health issues, PTSD issues – said “No, I’m done.” And at that moment in time, the lack of trust that victim may have had in me because I was part of a system – you know, I was associated with the police – if they have had their own independent lawyer that would have been giving them advice just for them – a little bit like we do with court-appointed special advocates for children in the juvenile system in the civilian cases where there is a lawyer and advocate for the child that’s not associated with any of the other parties in the conflict – I’m hoping that what we’ve done which is remarkable that we are going to require this for all victims is going to set a standard. First of all, this has never been done anywhere in the world has this occurred. I’m really hopeful that it will once again show the way the civilian system that we’ve got to find the resources to get victims.

And in the civilian system, the victims have no guarantee of any mental health services. None. Zip. Nada. There’s nothing there. A lot of them don’t have insurance. So you know, you have to try to cobble together.

And finally, I want to say that we are determined to get rid of the good soldier defense. I am confident that’s going to happen if not in the next month then certainly with the next NDAA. I have not encountered opposition to this idea, so I want you to know that before you go.

And finally, we’re going to work on this over-medication thing. When I went to Walter Reed after the big scandal there and I went from room-to-room…every single room, the dresser was all alcohol bottles and pill bottles, and I didn’t see one sign for group therapy, for addiction treatment. And I began then realizing we had a huge over-medication problem when it comes to mental health in the military.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
If I could – about your question about the attorney. You have my testimony about how – what I went through, going from the reporting to the Article 32, I had nobody. Nobody at all. You know, the thing is when it came to court martial time, I was drilled. I mean, I’m being traumatized so many – being re-victimized so many times. And nobody – you know, I had the prosecutor, but he can only do so much. But when you’re up there and you’re getting drilled by this perpetrator’s defense attorney and they’re playing the recorded tape that I got on him and say, “Listen to this. Did you ask this? You wanted this.” And the judge not to intervene? It was disgusting.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri):
Well, there – believe me, I’ve been in a courtroom as a prosecutor when the judge did intervene when there was inappropriate questions, when I raised the objections…and the judge just completely did not make the right ruling. I think judges are better today than they were 20 years ago, and we are working now to make sure that the victims today and going forward have that independent lawyer, that can be there for them and advise them. I’m very excited about that reform. We all worked very hard on it together. Very proud of it. It’s – I don’t think how big it is actually has been comprehended by most people because we’ve been focused on a policy difference rather than on the monumental historic changes that we just got signed into law.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
I believe it would really help tremendously, you know, to have somebody there along and supporting you because I had nobody.

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
May I? To have that as well, that person not be subject to rank. That’s very important, because I had lawyers who were captains or lieutenants and they were unable to confront my commander because they outranked or even the SAPRO office who had no rank and were civilian cowered under anyone with any bars on them. So to have that independence somehow.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri):
We’ve got to make sure that happens. You’re absolutely right, Ms. Kenyon. Thank you both very much.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
…Interestingly, we have heard instances where the Special Victims Counsels have been put in very difficult positions for that reason. So that’s something many of us are going to look into for the next NDAA. Because I’ve heard of cases where Special Victims Counsels have advised not to seek mental health because of the concern that it would be used in the Article 32 against them or at least advised “You need to be aware it could be used against you.”

And I’ve heard of cases where the question of whether one would report or not was debated because of fear of how they’d be treated.

So I think we have to really look into empowerment of that specific person to make sure they can’t be bullied, they can’t be retaliated against themselves. So I think that’s some Sen. McCaskill and other Senators are going to work on for the next round. I think it’s really important.


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