Timeline of Veteran Suicides, Legislative Efforts, and Nationwide Negligence at the Department of Veterans Affairs

Military Sexual Trauma – The New Face of PTSD (2007):

The Other PTSD – Sexual Abuse of Women in the Military -NBC Nightly News (May 4, 2007)

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams Featured ‘The Other PTSD: Sexual Abuse of Women in the Military’ (May 4, 2007)

Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (2007):

The House debates the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which directs the VA to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. The bill is named for an Iraq veteran who took his own life, and recognizes the special needs of veterans suffering from PTSD and elderly veterans who are at high risk for depression and experience high rates of suicide. -Rep Leonard Boswell (October 23, 2007)

President George W. Bush Signed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act Into Law (November 5, 2007)

The Number One Problem Combat Vets Will Face is Mental Health (2007):

Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense tells Armen Keteyian that the No. 1 problem facing vets of Afghanistan and Iraq will be mental health. -CBS News (November 13, 2007)

Eye to Eye with Katie Couric on CBS News: Veterans and Suicide (November 13, 2007)

Veterans Who Get Help at VA Are Still at Risk of Suicide (2008):

CBS News first reported on the staggering number of veteran suicides in a report last year. Now, newly-released data shows that vets who get help from the VA are still at risk. -CBS (March 20, 2008)

CBS News: Veteran Suicides An Epidemic (March 20, 2008)

Seven Vets Under VA’s Care Died by Suicide in Washington (2008):

They served their country honorably but after risking their life in combat abroad, coping with coming home was too much. In the last three months seven servicemen being treated by Spokane’s VA Hospital have committed suicide. -4 News Now (April 29, 2008)

Army National Guardsman Spc. Timothy Juneman Died by Suicide; Family Shares Imminent Redeployment to Iraq ‘Major Stressor’ (March 5, 2008)

Senator Patty Murray Alleges VA Cover-up of Veteran Suicide (2008):

Despite recent efforts by the Veterans Administration to prevent veteran suicide, seven have committed suicide in the Inland Northwest in the last four months and US Senator Patty Murray is calling the situation unacceptable. -4 News Now (May 1, 2008)

Senator Patty Murray Calls for Changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Wake of Suicides (May 1, 2008)

“The Betrayal Issues Are Really Deep” (2009):

Katie Couric investigates an alarming trend in the U.S. military, as more and more female soldiers have come forward with tales of sexual abuse at the hands of male soldiers and superior officers. -CBS (March 17, 2009)

Sexual Assault Permeates U.S. Armed Forces (CBS News, March 17, 2009)

Continue reading

Extraordinary Claims Should Require Extraordinary Evidence (June 26, 2018)

National GuardGuest Post by Liz Ullman:

Enrique Costas comes from four generations of dignified and recognized military service. His grandfather’s name is in the history books as one of the first soldiers to join the Puerto Rico National Guard to serve the United States. His father defended this country for 32 years, earning an Air Medal for heroism in Vietnam; his nephew will be commissioned as an officer in the next week and will be going on active duty.

Costas enlisted in the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1988. In 1999 he volunteered to be assigned as a Recruiter, earning top awards and commendations throughout his almost 14 years as the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention (RR) Command office in San Juan. He was also selected and participated for seven years in the Puerto Rico National Guard Honor Guard, the team responsible for carrying our Nation’s and Army Colors in the highest of the Government’s activities and celebrations.

He was responsible for achieving monthly production for the three main tenets of the Guard recruiting office: Recruiting, Retention and Attrition Management • Staff resourcing for two Army battalions covering 13 cities • Supervising and mentoring up to 10 recruiting and retention non-commissioned officers.

Costas was a champion in mission accomplishment with the highest integrity and ethics. His walls are filled awards and photos with the Guard’s top-ranking officers, including General Clyde A. Vaughn, who personally commended Costas for his service and integrity. Costas retired in 2014 after Honorably serving our Nation for over 26 years.

The biggest mistake Costas made in his career was simply being on duty during the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program also known as G-RAP, a cash incentive opportunity for civilian soldiers to bring in new recruits. With no direction from Washington D.C.’s Strength Maintenance Division, General Vaughn’s recruiters were supposed to intuit the 60 changes in the G-RAP rules over a seven-year period, while also working to fill the dwindling ranks of Guard troops.

Just before dawn, on an early October morning in 2015, Costas’s home was stormed by six Federal agents and two State police officers, in full tactical gear. Costas thought his family was under attack, and it was – by the Government he had served. Costas was arrested and taken to a Federal Courthouse where he was charged with “crimes” dating back almost ten years, during the days of G-RAP.

Costas is one of hundreds of General Vaughn’s recruiters who have been held responsible for not knowing the G-RAP rules that were never sent to them. And not just held responsible — charged with criminal intent to commit fraud against the Government. General Vaughn, who created and administered G-RAP, and who was administratively sanctioned for poor management, is enjoying full retirement in Virginia and Arizona.

Costas is going to prison.

The government’s “evidence” against Costas and other recruiters does not even meet the standard of circumstantial. In his case, the government admitted during trial to having no actual evidence, but only a “reasonable inference” that a crime could have been committed.

As a recruiter, Costas could not and did not participate in G-RAP. There were no Army regulations that governed G-RAP because the program was run by a private Alabama-based contractor called Docupak. Docupak was essentially incentivized to run a sloppy program, earning a 17% markup on every new enlistment, on top of their contract fees and administrative expenses. This lack of training stands in sharp contrast to how the Army usually operates, with manuals and rules on almost every action and procedure.

The one rule that the prosecution seized on to brand soldiers and veterans as felons regarded the relationship between the Recruiting Officer and the Docupak civilian contractors known as Recruiting Assistants (RAs). When G-RAP began, those contractors were regarded as assistants to the Recruiting Officers. The Recruiting Officers might use the RAs to give that extra push to a potential applicant considering enlisting. The Recruiting Officers were encouraged to ask the RAs to attend recruiting events and help with the finding of potential candidates. The original program outline stated that the Recruiting Officer would provide specifics for each possible enlistment to the RA, including legal name, birth date and social security number. That information was used by Docupak to verify enlistments and process payments to their RA contractors. In later descriptions of G-RAP, the social security number would go from the new recruit to the RA contractor, bypassing the Recruiting Officer, which not a single RA contractor reports ever seeing or any evidence has ever been produced by Docupak that verifies it.

This procedural change has resulted in hundred of indictments and scores of convictions for identity theft and wire fraud. Soldiers and veterans are in prison. Costas, sadly, is on his way.

After the government filed more than 50 felonies against Costas, his defense team could not overcome the wrath of the United States and he was convicted by a jury who felt that with so many felonies filed, Costas certainly had to have done something wrong.

He did not. G-RAP was a tangle of mismanagement; the soldiers who were on duty during its tenure are paying the price of administrative failures by their command. In an internal investigation done by the Puerto Rico National Guard pertaining to G-RAP in 2012, the Investigating Officer admitted that “Recruiters had no formal training on how G-RAP operated.”

Costas and his family had their hearts broken when the prosecution opened with statements calling him a “cheater, stealer and a liar.” He said these words, “pierced the core of his soul.”

Presumption of Innocence or even the “benefit of the doubt” was never given. In the end the Government spent an estimated $100,000 prosecuting Costas and the jury found Costas guilty on three charges amounting to $3,000. Although never having a criminal record and an impeccable military career, the judge sentenced Costas to prison. In the end “reasonable inference” and circumstantial evidence weighed more than 26 years of honorable service willing to sacrifice life and limb.

Recently the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th District reversed and vacated a conviction of an accused soldier involving G-RAP and determined, that the “Government did not retain a revisionary interest in the funds and that it did not exercise supervision or control over the funds”. This decision cannot be applied to Costas unless the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st District, the Supreme Court, or Congress rules on it.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
― Carl Sagan

The claims were extraordinary. The evidence was missing. And yet, a United States military hero and veteran has been sacrificed.

We respectfully request that Congress or the White House appoint a commission to review the G-RAP investigation, to identify Soldiers that have been unjustly stigmatized by it, and to recommend suitable cases for clemency and pardon.

Related Links:
Stop G-RAP Injustice | Facebook
The Conspiracy Behind the G-RAP War on American Soldiers (March 30, 2016)
If You Look at the Dollars, Guard Recruiting Assistance Program Investigations Make No Sense (July 12, 2016)
Top Ten Problems with the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (G-RAP) Investigations (December 15, 2016)
An Open Letter to Congress Regarding the Investigations of the National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program (June 5, 2017)

Rep. Mike Turner Says New Military Legislation Closes a Loophole & Includes Domestic Violence Victims in the Expedited Transfer Policy Law (May 1, 2018)

Law protecting military victims of sexual assault discussed. -WDTN-TV (May 1, 2018)

“In civilian life you have complete control of your movements, and if you’re in an unsafe situation you can remove yourself. In military life, the victim needs permission to take even basic self-preservation actions.” (Rep. Mike Turner, December 25, 2011)

“It’s been almost ten years since that law for expedited transfers on base for sexual assault victims was changed. But today Congressman Turner and Mary Lauterbach both say there’s still more work to be done. Now backtracking to 2007 when Maria Lauterbach reported her sexual assault, the Vandalia Marine requested a base transfer and it was denied, leaving her in close proximity to her assaulter. Since her death, her mother has worked with Turner to get that law changed where victims can now seek that expedited transfer…Today, Turner’s saying even with that law passed those who report sexual assault in context of domestic violence have not been permitted expedited transfer, bringing forth the persist against Military Sexual Trauma Act. ‘We have drawn legislation that would close that loophole and make certain that those who are subject to domestic violence also have the ability, as victims of sexual assault, to seek the expedited transfer’ (Rep. Mike Turner)This will be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which will pass the House of Representatives next week.” –WDTN-TV (May 1, 2018)

In the News:

Critics say the military needs to do more about domestic violence against women. A CBS News investigation found more than 25,000 women have been victimized over the past decade. -CBS Evening News (January 28, 2009)

Rep. Bruce Braley introduces the Holley Lynn James Act — a bill to help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the military get justice. The bill is named after Holley Lynn James, a constituent of Rep. Braley who was killed by her husband while both were in the service. -[Former] Representative Bruce Braley (April 12, 2011)

The man found dead in Germantown is ID’s as Adam Anthony Arndt; teen ID’d as Michelle Miller. -ABC 7 WJLA (April 8, 2013)

New provisions handed down from the Department of Defense are giving sexual assault victims in the military rights they never had before. It’s all thanks to the fight from Congressman Mike Turner and a local mother Mary Lauterbach. The provisions make certain that a victim has legal counsel throughout the whole process so they understand what their legal rights are and how to protect themselves. The provisions also remove the accused from the situation and not the victim. -WKEF/WRGT (August 15, 2013)

A major hurdle cleared for sexual assault victims in the military. Congress passed a bill that would give victims rights and protection they never had before. The push came after the tragic murder of local marine Maria Lauterbach and her unborn son. Congress approved a bill that would give military sexual assault victims legal counsel and criminalize retaliation against any victim. “If Maria had had this, she would be alive today, it’s very important.” The bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature. -WKEF/WRGT (December 20, 2013)

Morris’ death in 2012 was ruled a suicide. -WMAR-2 News (August 10, 2015)

First Class Private Shadow McClaine’s body was discovered earlier this week and investigators arrested two fellow soldiers. -CBS Sacramento (January 28, 2017)

The family learned Kamisha Block was shot and killed while serving in Iraq. The Department of Defense told the Block family Kamisha was shot in the chest by friendly fire. It would take the family a grueling six months to learn the truth. The petition to ask for a congressional hearing set up by Shonta on change.org says: “I am begging for justice. I want the army to be held accountable.” -12 News Now (February 12, 2019)

A Marine colonel’s wife mourns her husband’s death in the Iraq war. Authorities said it was suicide, but she said he was murdered. -CBS News (March 29, 2019)

As Terri Caserta entered her son’s bedroom in their Peoria home, she broke down. It’s an emotion that Terri and her husband Patrick Caserta will always carry with them. Their son Brandon was in the United States Navy from 2015 to 2018. However, at just 21, Brandon would take his own life. -ABC 15 Arizona (June 14, 2019)

Related Links:
Law protecting military victims of sexual assault discussed (May 1, 2018)
Sgt. Bill Coffin Murdered Ex-Fiancee After Civilian Courts Issued Protective Order, Judge Alleges Army Routinely Ignores Court Orders (December 15, 1997)
Army Staff Sgt. Paul Norris Fatally Shot Army Spc. Kamisha Block in Iraq After She Ended a Forbidden Relationship, Then Ended His Own Life (August 16, 2007)
Camp Lejeune Marine Maria Lauterbach & Unborn Child Murdered, Remains Discovered in Fellow Marine’s Backyard; Cesar Laurean Sentenced to Life in Prison, No Parole (December 15, 2007)
Army Nurse Lt. Holley Lynn James Murdered by Marine Husband the Day After She Announced Divorce; John Wimunc Plead Guilty, Sentenced to Life in Prison (July 9, 2008)
HOR Oversight Subcommittee on National Security & Foreign Affairs Held a Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military (July 31, 2008)
The Army And Domestic Abuse | CBS (January 28, 2009)
History: The Military And Domestic Abuse (January 28, 2009)
Rep. Braley introduces Holley Lynn James Act (April 12, 2011)
[Former] Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) Introduced the Holley Lynn James Act (April 12, 2011)
Lauterbach Case Prompts Policy Reforms for Victims of Sexual Assault in the Military (December 25, 2011)
Army Spouse Katherine Morris Found Dead in Car Near Mall; Cause of Death Initially Ruled Suicide But Further Investigation Suggests Homicide Motivated by Insurance Fraud (May 6, 2012)
Air Force TSgt. Jennifer Norris Testified Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (January 23, 2013)
Michelle Miller, Adam Anthony Arndt found dead in Germantown (April 8, 2013)
Evidence Reveals Army Reserve Recruiter Adam Arndt Murdered High School Student & Recruit Michelle Miller, Then Killed Self; Army Claims Double Suicide (April 8, 2013)
Gillibrand Builds Bipartisan Support for Change of Military Justice Code (May 16, 2013)
Dept. of Defense Gives New Provisions to Military’s Victims of Sexual Assault (August 15, 2013)
Major Hurdle Cleared for Victims of Sexual Assault in the Military (December 20, 2013)
Family of Katherine Morris wants Dept. of Justice to investigate death (April 10, 2015)
Family of Katherine Morris wants Department of Justice to investigate death (August 10, 2015)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the U.S. Military (Iraq)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Afghanistan)
Non Combat Deaths of Female Soldiers in the US Military (Other Areas)
An Open Letter to the Senate and House of Representatives in Support of the Military Justice Improvement Act (June 1, 2016)
The war in Congress over rape in the military, explained (June 8, 2016)
Army Pfc. Shadow McClaine Reported Missing at Fort Campbell; Ex-Husband Sgt. Jamal Williams-McCray & Spc. Charles Robinson Pleaded Guilty to Murder (September 2, 2016)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members (October 21, 2016)
Army Pvt. Paige Fontenot Briles Found Unresponsive in Vehicle at Fort Hood Housing in Texas; Initially CID Investigated as Homicide But Later Ruled Suicide (December 24, 2016)
Mom Of Soldier Who Died At Hands Of Fellow Soldiers Hopes For Death Penalty (January 28, 2017)
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (February 13, 2017)
30 Domestic Abuse Cases in the Military That Ended in the Murder of Female Partners (November 27, 2017)
Police: Lewis-McChord airman killed his family, himself (March 13, 2018)
Man charged in death of soldier’s wife at Fort Stewart (June 6, 2018)
Estranged Husband Charged in Murder of Fort Campbell Soldier (October 19, 2018)
Fort Campbell soldier charged with murder Friday in wife’s beating death (January 11, 2019)
Vidor family of soldier Kamisha Block alleges cover-up after 2007 shooting in Iraq (February 12, 2019)
Gruesome details emerge in lovers’ triangle murder of Army soldier in Benton Harbor (February 20, 2019)
Was it death by suicide or murder? “48 Hours” investigates in “Widow’s War” (March 29, 2019)
Fort Bliss soldier charged with murdering his wife, also a soldier (April 15, 2019)
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life (June 14, 2019)
Wife Accused Of Fatally Shooting Army Husband Days After He Got Emergency Protection Order Against Her (June 18, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
Military Families for Justice (MFFJ)

Letter of Support for Save Our Heroes in Our Shared Quest for Military Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

quote-walter-cronkite-in-seeking-truth-you-have-to-get-76354

October 1, 2016

U.S. House of Representatives
United States Senate
Washington, DC

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a letter of support for Save Our Heroes. We recognized immediately that Save Our Heroes and victims of crimes both want similar changes in the military justice system. Save Our Heroes is asking for three specific legislative/policy changes to restore fundamental fairness in the military justice system:

1. Remove all Commanders authority from decision-making in the legal system.
2. The number of panel members should be increased to 12 for General Courts Martial.
3. Any conviction at Courts Martial shall require a unanimous verdict.

These requests by Save Our Heroes are similar to the overall changes that victims of crimes in the military have lobbied for, specifically that Commanders be removed from the reporting and decision-making process because of fear of bias, lack of investigative training, and the power to discharge and/or punish with the stroke of a pen. Save Our Heroes is requesting the same changes because ultimately both the victims and accused are looking for a military justice system that mirrors the civilian justice system while respecting the need of the Commanding Officer to ensure discipline is maintained within their command. We want a justice system where crimes are reported to legal authorities and not a Commander who is an authority figure with the power to impact your entire life. We want a justice system where crimes will be investigated thoroughly by unbiased military criminal investigative organizations looking for the truth. We want a justice system that provides the same constitutional rights as those provided in the civilian justice system. Save Our Heroes is specifically asking for changes that are commonplace in the civilian justice system, like a jury of twelve of our peers and a unanimous verdict. Our military deserves no less.

Victims of crimes in the military are asking for a military justice system that provides due process for the accuser and the accused. Crime victims want the ability to go to trial based on an independent prosecutor’s decision to charge because there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a case. Crime victims want those people who level false accusations, and engage in other abuses of the process, to be held accountable. While we recognize that false reports represent a small percentage of total reports (between 2-8 percent based on Bureau of Justice Statistics data), those who do falsely accuse are hurting the real victims of these crimes and should be held accountable through the same impartial military justice system. Both the accusers and the accused are asking for due process, which is best accomplished by a system that mirrors the civilian justice system. Currently, Commanders have control of the process when the accused, accuser, defense attorneys, and prosecutors should have control over the process.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Norris, Military Justice for All
Stephanie Schroeder, US Human Rights Network & UN Board Member
Brian Lewis, Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma

The Clay Hunt Act: What President Barack Obama Just Signed (February 12, 2015)

On February 12, 2015, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act into law at the White House. -The Obama White House (February 12, 2015) 

Summary: Learn more about the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act and the Administration’s commitment to help veterans.

The new suicide prevention law is named in honor of Clay Hunt, an extraordinary young Texan and decorated Marine who served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like too many of our veterans, Clay struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress after he came home. Sadly, Clay’s life ended much too soon when he tragically committed suicide in 2011 at the age of only 28.

This new law builds on a long history of executive actions the President has issued to improve access to mental health services for members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. The Clay Hunt Act will:

  • Require annual third-party evaluations of VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs
  • Create a centralized website with resources and information for veterans about the range of mental health services available from the VA
  • Require collaboration on suicide prevention efforts between VA and non-profit mental health organizations

President Obama passes law to prevent suicide among military members. -CNN (March 31,2016)

Read more from the The Obama White House here.

Related Links:
The Clay Hunt Act: What the President Just Signed
President Obama on Veteran Suicide – Clay Hunt Act
President Obama Signs the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act
Remarks by the President at Signing of the Clay Hunt SAV Act
Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act
H.R.203 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): Clay Hunt SAV Act
Senate Report 114-34 – Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans Act
Casey Statement Following President’s Signing of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act
Pelosi Statement on President Obama Signing Bipartisan Law to Prevent Veteran Suicide
President Signs Clay Hunt Act, Says ‘Stigma Has to End’ | Dept. of Defense
Clay Hunt Act complements VA’s ongoing commitment to mental health
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act | IAVA
President Obama Signs Into Law Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act
President Obama Signs Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act
Obama signs veteran suicide prevention bill
American Federation for Suicide Prevention Supports Our Veterans
Ranking Member Corrine Brown Stresses Importance of Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act’s First Anniversary
Clay Hunt Act Serves To Prevent Veteran Suicide | NAMI
Clay Hunt SAV Act Update: May 2019 | IAVA

Air Force Defends Handling of Sex Scandal (2013)

USAF SealThe House Armed Services Committee hears testimony on Lackland Air Force Base’s sexual misconduct problem. Generals say they’re addressing underlying issues, but victims have concerns.

The hearing did not include testimony from the alleged sexual assault victims at Lackland, nor from those charged or convicted in connection with the investigation. But two Air Force veterans who said they were sexually assaulted years ago did testify.

“If you want a career, you don’t want to say anything because you get retaliated against; you get beat up and thrown out. We need to remove the chain of command from the reporting process — it’s absolutely detrimental,” she said, adding that as a military sexual assault victim, “You almost become a leper.” She testified that two of her attackers pleaded guilty, but others were never charged.

Read more here.