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

Partial transcript of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-New York) 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. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
…I want to talk a little bit about the type of mental health services you did receive. Mr. Arbogast, could you talk a little bit about what type of mental health treatment you received through the DOD after your assault and whether you thought it was adequate care, if there are any improvement specifically to that. And then after separating from the military, what was the mental health treatment like at the VA? Were there any challenges, any inadequacies there? And what recommendations would you make to this committee for the DOD or VA to improve the types of mental health services you received after a sexual trauma?

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
…After my assault, I was pretty much tossed to a back room, I would say, and just left floating around a command after I was transferred.

As for care, I didn’t receive adequate care from the DOD at all for the simple fact is at my time in my rape – you felt like a dirty little secret that they just wanted to do away with and the psychologist at Walter Reed in Bethesda, you know, didn’t – they wanted to put you in groups that were either combat-related or other mental illnesses. And when you’re in these groups and you’re talking about this, you just don’t feel comfortable talking about it. So they then moved me to an outpatient care, which is the same thing. You know, they throw drugs at you and it could be four or five different prescription drugs. And the thing is they don’t want you to commit suicide, but what’s the side effects of these medications -a lot of these medications is suicide.

As for the DOD, they did absolutely nothing for me but just pretty much gave me a 30% discharge of the DOD for PTSD and sent me on my way.

As for the VA, I’d only seen a counselor – one counselor – through my whole therapy who was not trained in military sexual trauma. He mostly trained Vietnam vets. You know, I looked for a different treatment facility and different programs at my VA. They were women-oriented, which was fine. But then when I asked about what can they do for me, she said “Well, we don’t have a men’s group yet. We’re still in the process of putting that together.” And this is just last year. Her recommendation was to go through cognitive therapy, and that’s traveling down everyday for six weeks and that’s 90 miles from my home.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
After you attempted suicide, what type of treatment did you receive then? Was it a different kind of treatment or did you receive better care through the VA?

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
I received – as my spinal cord injury and my paralysis, I received excellent care regarding that, and I go to Richmond and Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center down there for the spinal cord clinic because it’s top notch. Their psychologists there are very well listeners, but again they’re not trained about military sexual trauma. You know, you bring it up and they’re like “Oh!” That’s kind of like their first thing and then – you know, their first expression, and at that point you kind of feel like “I’m just this dirty thing that they – just happened to stumble in.” Not that I’m downing any of them. It’s just the fact that that’s a stigma that I feel personally when you get a reply of “Oh!” when you say that you’re sexually assaulted.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
Thank you. Ms. Kenyon, can you share with us your experience in terms of what type of mental health treatment you received and whether it was better at the VA or whether it was better in active duty under the DOD and whether your records were transferred well and what impact that treatment had on you?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Yes, thank you. During my active duty service, the recommendation was to go to mental health. And whenever I did, I would get a counseling statement for not doing my job. So after one or two, I believe, I stopped going because of the repercussions in my command.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
Did your case go to trial, Ms. Kenyon?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
It did not. It went to – basically the CID investigated and he denied everything and then he was caught lying on the sworn statement later, and they gave him a charge of lying on the sworn statement and indecent assault. Basically, he was given an Article 15 and extra duty. So he had no jail time; he lost rank and that was it.

But my repercussions in the fact that I could not go to treatment. I was punished for going to treatment so I did not pursue it while I was in the military.

However, when I went out, I did – when I was discharged, I did try to go to the VA multiple times and was re-directed to other locations, other services, and eventually gave up. And I re-started recently trying to get more help and get support.

And basically what I had found in helping myself and other veterans, it’s good counselors are the stuff of legends. You know, they’re always 50 miles away. They’re, you know – I heard of this magical counselor somewhere out of reach. And those types of things happen and are told to other veterans and they do try to pursue them, but if they are any good, they have a very long list.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
During your trial, did – were mental health records used in your trial? Your mental health records?

Ms. Jessica Kenyon, Former Private First Class, U.S. Army:
Not to my knowledge, and it was just my commander took it and he didn’t – it was no formal trial.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
Do you know, Mr. Arbogast, if your mental health records were used in your Article 32 hearing or during your trial?

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
I’m not quite sure, but they did use mental unstability [sic]. You know, the defense tried that approach when they drilled me on the stand.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
But your trial was unique. You had taped evidence of your perpetrator admitting the crime of drugging you and raping you so you had more than airtight case. But again, for those who joined our hearing, your assailant received no jail time.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
No, due to his 23 years of service, they thought that was, you know, more or less – like I said – it’s kudos for him. You know, to me it was disgusting because –

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York):
Which is one of the reasons why members of this committee are working so hard to remove the good soldier defense.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast, USMC (Ret.):
Right, and I think that’s very important because of the simple fact of, you know, when I’m brought in and I’m told that “Oh, he’s just a Lance Corporal. I’m a Staff Sergeant. This is how many years I’ve served” and then, you know, use that good soldier defense, then that weighs upon the jury or the judge – whoever’s handling the case. And they’re like, “Oh well, you just had this one case” but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had cases in the past.

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