Victims of military sexual assault face barriers in seeking mental health treatment while on active duty

Victims of sexual assault in the military often face barriers in seeking mental health treatment while they are on active duty, according to recent testimonies before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel. 

One major barrier deterring victims from seeking care is the fear that their mental health records could be used against them in a military court proceeding.

Dr. Nathan Galbreath, a psychologist and senior advisor to the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), confirmed he is required to inform patients seeking care that “there are limitations to privacy and confidentiality in the military.”

Galbreath, who has a law enforcement background, emphasized that he is very careful about how he documents the care of his patients. He claimed that he has “never had anyone quit treatment” because of the concern over lack of confidentiality. “But I have seen other situations where that occurs,” Galbreath testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) expressed skepticism over Galbreath’s claim minimizing the deterrent effect.

“I don’t understand why anybody would go to you for counseling if they understand that the record of that counseling can be made available in a later proceeding,” said King. “That just makes no sense whatsoever.”

At the Feb. 26th hearing, King and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) raised concerns that sexual assault victims may forgo treatment because of the lack of confidentiality, and the negative impacts to their mental health as a result.

Galbreath conceded that it is “definitely a possibility” for the military sexual assault victim’s psychological condition to worsen if they don’t receive prompt care.

“For some people, they don’t get better and they do without care, and we do want to have a number of different ways to provide them treatment,” said Galbreath.

He said victims concerned with confidentiality may turn to the Department of Defense’s Safe Help Line that’s run by the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).

“It’s completely anonymous. Victims can call in from any area and they can get care and services they need through there,” said Galbreath.

Another significant barrier to treatment is the fear of retribution by the victim’s command.

Former Private First Class Jessica Kenyon, who was raped while on active duty in 2006, told lawmakers that she was reprimanded by her supervisors every time she went for treatment.

“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,” said Kenyon. “I was punished for going to treatment so I did not pursue it while I was in the military.”

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