Objective: Provide support to families who have lost loved ones to non combat death, homicide, and suicide. Prevent non combat death, homicide and suicide by providing an expedited transfer option to whistleblowers and those who feel like their lives may be in danger.
This is a small sample of the many soldiers that have died of non combat deaths, homicide, and suicide. It was hard for me to choose which ones to feature. Given the amount of families who have questioned a ruling of suicide while their loved one was serving in the US military, it’s fair to say that some suicide rulings should have a second look to determine if a homicide was ruled out. It’s important to note that if the cause of death is determined to be suicide, then the military never has to investigate again.
Lt Col Teresa James had a stellar career in the Army National Guard for over 30 years until she reported being sexually assaulted by a senior officer. Shortly after reporting the crime, she took convalescent leave for 30 days to seek medical treatment and eventually was medically retired because “she refused to come into work” according to leadership in the West Virginia Army National Guard. Lt Col James states that she asked for an extension to her convalescent leave (while continuing to seek medical treatment) or to work at an alternate location away from those who were retaliating against her. She did not want to retire and fought the forced medical retirement process but lost those appeals. She is now speaking up about the sexual assault and retaliation she experienced after reporting the assault. This case is a good example of the complications associated with the expedited transfer policy and how it is applies to the National Guard when both the accused and the victim are permanently stationed at the same location.
In May 2016, news broke that the Department of Defense Inspector General found that a brigadier general in the West Virginia Army National Guard did in fact retaliate against Lt Col James after she reported that she had been sexually assaulted by another officer. This is the first time that the DoD IG has confirmed a report of retaliation in the military. This case highlights the need for coordinated reform on the part of the Chief, the National Guard Bureau, and all of the state National Guard headquarters. The federal government does not have jurisdiction over the States therefore only the Governor and State Congressional members have authority to enact new laws for the National Guard. The National Guard must enact it’s own policies. The DoD IG has no jurisdiction over the West Virginia Army National Guard therefore cannot court martial or admonish the individuals involved. Lt Col James is focusing on ensuring that all State’s enact legislation to protect their National Guard members.
“My whole reason for speaking out is to educate other survivors,” she said,“ ‘That you are not alone. There are people out there that will help you, and that the best thing to do if you are assaulted is report it.’” (via Charleston Gazette-Mail)
Airman First Class Kelsey Anderson was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on June 9, 2011. According to media reports, she was found in a locked stall in a second-floor women’s bathroom inside an aircraft maintenance hangar at the base. The military investigation indicated that a few months after Kelsey arrived at Guam, she was stripped of her service revolver over mental health concerns. Although Kelsey’s weapons privileges had been restored about a month prior to her death. The reports stated that Kelsey may have been unhappy after trying and failing to be transferred from Guam or released from military service. Kelsey’s parents had to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to get the Air Force to turn over its investigation records. They simply wanted answers for their daughter’s tragic and unexpected, untimely death yet the Air Force concealed the details. Chris and Adelia Sue Anderson received the mostly redacted investigation reports almost two years after their daughter’s death. The final court settlement with the Air Force in September 2013 was for the cost of the attorney they had to hire in their quest to get the information they were entitled to have. It’s unfortunate that this family had to wait two years for answers and even more unfortunate that they were forced to go to court during one of the most difficult times of their life.
What could have been done to prevent this? What kind of mental health services were offered to Kelsey? Why did Kelsey want to leave Guam and/or get out of the military? Why was she upset after finding out that she was not able to transfer or get out of the military? What were the extenuating circumstances that made Kelsey feel like she had no options other then suicide? Is this a suicide? After so many families have come forward with concerns that their loved one was murdered despite a ruling of suicide, do we know for sure that this was a suicide? It happened in Guam. There is absolutely no one to hold the Air Force accountable in that setting. There is no way to ensure that the Air Force investigated the scene as both a potential homicide or suicide. It’s as simple as what the Air Force says happens is what happened. Every government entity should have a mechanism by which they are held accountable. Where does a grieving parent turn to when they do not agree with the military investigator’s or medical examiner’s findings? Who holds the individual branches or Department of Defense accountable? The only body of people that can hold the military industrial complex accountable is the US Congress and even they struggle. Time and time again we hear accounts from service members and families that contacting their congressional Representative or Senator did not help. Some help, some don’t, and some never call you back. Every level of government should have accountability of some kind because this country was founded on the principles of checks and balances in our system.
“Enlisting U.S. Sen. Jim Risch‘s office for help still didn’t yield results.” -Chris & Adelia Sue Anderson
In an interview the Andersons’ lawyer emphasized that the prolonged wait and anxiety of suing the federal government in a last-ditch effort for information intensified the couple’s pain after the loss of their daughter. He empathized as a father of three and shared that he could not imagine losing a child thousands of miles away and not knowing what happened to her. No parent should have to wait nearly two years before the government decides to produce the information they deserve to have.