Gillibrand: The Military Justice Improvement Act Would Give Service Members a Justice System That Works (July 1, 2019)

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Brian Lewis MJIA.jpg

You can listen to U.S. Navy veteran Brian Lewis’ March 13, 2013 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel here.

“Nearly 30 years ago, when George H. W. Bush was president and Dick Cheney was the secretary of defense, the Pentagon made a promise to our service members. Dozens of Navy and Marine Corps aviation officers had just been investigated for the infamous Tailhook sexual assault scandal, and America’s military leadership affirmed a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual assault within their ranks. The military had a sexual assault problem, and pledged to solve it.

It’s painfully clear that the military has now failed at this mission by almost any metric. For years, survivor after survivor has told us the change in the system we needed to make to end this scourge — the same change that a number of our allies around the world have already made: take the adjudication of these crimes outside of the chain of command and allow trained military prosecutors to prosecute them.” Read more opinion at Military Times here.

“The Military Justice Improvement Act would take the prosecution of sexual assault and other serious crimes, such as murder, out of the chain of command. It would keep those crimes in the military justice system, but put the decision to prosecute them into the hands of actual military prosecutors who are trained to deal with complex legal issues.” –Senator Kirsten Gillbrand (Military Times, July 1, 2019)

Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Coalition to Reform Military Justice System  -Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (May 16, 2013)

Related Links:
Pass the Military Justice Improvement Act @SenGillibrand
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019 [Full Text]
Comprehensive Resource Center for the Military Justice Improvement Act
Sens. Cruz, Gillibrand Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act
Udall, Heinrich Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act To Address Crisis Of Military Sexual Assault
Leahy Joins Gillibrand And Others To Reintroduce Military Justice Improvement Act
Hirono Wants To Change How The Military Prosecutes Sexual Assault
Senator Martha McSally’s Responsibility to Survivors of Military Sexual Assault
McSally defends keeping military commanders involved in sexual assault cases
Gillibrand: “Status Quo” Not Working With Military Sexual Assaults
Veterans for Peace: Sexual Assault on Military Members Press Conference, Seattle, Washington (August 11, 2006)
Jamie Leigh Jones Testified at the House Judiciary Committee Halliburton/KBR Iraq Rape Case Hearing (December 19, 2007)
HOR Oversight Subcommittee on National Security & Foreign Affairs Held a Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military (July 31, 2008)
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)
Sexual Misconduct Allegations at Lackland AFB | C-SPAN (January 23, 2013)
Panetta Is Lifting Ban On Women In Combat Roles (NPR, January 23, 2013)
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 1 | C-SPAN (March 13, 2013)
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 2 | C-SPAN (March 13, 2013)
Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Coalition to Reform Military Justice System [Full Video] | Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (May 16, 2013)
Gillibrand Builds Bipartisan Support for Change of Military Justice Code (May 16, 2013)
S. 967: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 – U.S. Senate Voting Record (March 6, 2014)
The war in Congress over rape in the military, explained (June 8, 2016)
Sexual Assault in the Military | C-SPAN (March 6, 2019)
S. 1789: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2019 Reintroduced by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (June 13, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
Gillibrand: The Military Justice Improvement Act Would Give Service Members a Justice System That Works (July 1, 2019)

Kansas Army National Guard Veteran Zachary Schaffer Found Unresponsive in Kansas City Home; Death Ruled Fatal Drug Overdose (January 23, 2019)

Zachary Schaffer

Spc. Zachary Schaffer, Kansas Army National Guard

Kansas Army National Guard veteran Zachary Schaffer, 21, was found unresponsive in his Kansas City, Kansas home on January 23, 2019. According to the Dodge City Daily Globe, Zachary fatally overdosed only a few days after he was punished and discharged from the Kansas Army National Guard. According to his mother, Wendy Mottas, Zachary, or Zach, as he was known to most, was accused of failing to show up for multiple weekend drills and discharged with an “other than honorable.” In the midst of losing his military career and eventually his security clearance, Zach was flagged by his command for the prescribed use of Adderall to treat ADHD, even after he was reassured it was okay for him to take the prescription. Wendy doesn’t know if her son’s death was intentional, but stated Zach began suffering with depression and substance abuse during his time in service with the Kansas Army National Guard. Zach went from being a stellar soldier at the age of 19 to being hired as a full time military technician to losing that same position less than one year later for reasons undisclosed. Six months after being fired by the Kansas Army National Guard, he was also passed over for deployment to Afghanistan, having been told he was ‘red flagged’ for the use of Adderall. Six months later, Zach would also experience sadness and grief after losing his friend, 24 year-old Kansas Army National Guardsman Khamis Naser, who died by suicide on July 31, 2018.

Zach grew up in the Hutchinson, Kansas area and joined the Kansas Army National Guard in May 2014. Zach’s mother, also an Army veteran, said he was born in Germany when she was in the military. Zach came from a military family and it was a natural fit for him too. Wendy shared Zach was always intelligent and she knew he would be successful because he was very skilled in anything related to computers and coding. After Zach completed Army basic training and specialty training, he progressed quickly as a soldier and eventually got a full-time job with the Kansas Army National Guard at age 19. Zach was a federal military technician (Personnel Security Technician: GS-7) during the week and on Guard weekends, he was an Intelligence Analyst (E-4). Zach’s downward spiral began when he lost his full-time job as a federal technician and was made to feel incompetent by those who also originally built him up to be a great soldier with a bright future in the military. Zach’s mother does not know why Zach was fired during the probationary period, but she does suspect that Zach had information about other National Guard members whose misconduct were overlooked during routine background checks so they could maintain their security clearances.

Once Zach lost his full-time position, he went from being a professional soldier to not caring about anything anymore. He moved from his home in Topeka, Kansas to Lawrence, Kansas and became somewhat estranged from the family. Zach became secretive, fell in with the wrong crowd, stopped going to therapy and became reliant on self-medicating to take care of the pain of depression he was feeling.  Realizing this lifestyle was not healthy, Zach moved back home to Junction City and tried to get his life together in early January 2018. After about three months of living at home, he discovered the Kansas Army National Guard unit in Junction City, Kansas was tasked with a deployment to Afghanistan, to which he inquired and expressed interest to the unit’s leadership. The leadership put him through mobilization procedures for nearly a month and then his deployment orders to Afghanistan were cancelled citing he had been flagged during the pre-deployment process for Adderall use. Zach was prescribed Adderall for the diagnosis ADHD and his mother states he was prescribed the drug due to a struggle with concentration and focus. Once Zach was flagged, someone made the decision to prevent him from deploying to Afghanistan and his mother does not know if his National Guard unit influenced the decision at that time or not.

Zach was looking forward to the deployment. Instead his orders to Afghanistan were cancelled and it was then Zach started meeting regularly with mental health personnel for depression. It is unknown what Zach may have shared with health care professionals, but his family realized something changed in Zach’s life. Shortly after, Zach moved from Junction City to Kansas City with a friend with which his family was not familiar. He remained distant from his family and friends. Worse yet, the same military officer (O-4) who made the decision to fire Zachary from his full-time military technician position also influenced National Guard unit leadership to end Zach’s military career in its entirety. Leadership observed the changes in Zach’s attendance and behavior. Instead of helping him, they used it to revoke his security clearance knowing he needed a security clearance for his job as an intelligence specialist in the National Guard and his full-time job with the Marine Corps. During this time, the only thing done to assist Zach or try to get to the root of the issues he was having was to refer him to the unit’s social work office. At some point, this social worker was told to ‘stand down’ and allow the unit’s part-time civilian social worker to take care of his issues. To his mother’s knowledge, this individual never contacted Zach to offer support and he was never offered any type of assistance including participation in the Army Substance Abuse Program.

In early July 2018, Zach contacted his mom and stated he wanted to go to an inpatient rehabilitation program. He self-admitted to the substance abuse program to help him stop his drug dependency and get his life back on track. The day after Zach left the rehabilitation program and returned to Kansas City, he learned his best friend and fellow National Guardsman, Khamis Naser, had died by suicide. Zach told his mother he had talked to Khamis only five hours before he was found dead in his apartment. Zach attended the August 2018 drill weekend and his mother said he told her he was met with disdain from his leadership. Zach’s mother states she has text messages from her son indicating the NCOs in his unit were bullying him. Zach told her they said his best friend would still be alive if he ‘wouldn’t have been high’ and ‘would’ve been there for him’ (Khamis). After Zach was blamed for the death of his friend, he got in a physical confrontation with one of his NCOs. During another drill weekend, word got around the unit that leadership wanted to ‘get rid of that “shitbag”’ (referring to Zach) because he made the unit ‘look bad.’ Despite the ill treatment by the Kansas Army National Guard, Zach picked himself up and got a new job as a civilian contractor for the Marine Corps in Kansas City at age 21. Unfortunately, a short time after he got the job, he was terminated when he learned the National Guard had suspended his security clearance. At this point, Zach had no income, including from his drill weekends, due to a status discrepancy. Zach was still considered in ‘active duty’ status because of the deployment orders to Afghanistan and no one in his military leadership would assist him to get transferred back to his original unit. His mother states he discussed this with someone at his unit who agreed with him — why bother going to weekend drill if he was getting bullied and not receiving any pay? He stopped attending drill after September of 2018 and once again became estranged from his family. He would never return to the National Guard.

According to the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, the Kansas Army National Guard suicide prevention program is “based on the premise that suicide prevention will be accomplished through the positive action of unit leaders and implementation of command policy. The key to the prevention of suicide is positive leadership and honest concern by supervisors for military personnel who are at risk of suicide and appropriate intervention for all such personnel.” Khamis Naser died by suicide in July 2018 and six months later in January 2019, Zach Schaffer died of a fatal drug overdose. How did the Kansas Army National Guard’s suicide prevention program help Khamis and Zach? Although we don’t know why Khamis Naser chose to die by suicide, we do know he was a current member of the Kansas Army National Guard. One would think losing a fellow comrade would initiate a more proactive suicide prevention approach yet instead we learn the very people tasked with a “positive and honest concern by supervisors” for military personnel at risk of suicide and appropriate intervention was not implemented in the last couple of years. Zach was a soldier dealing with the loss of his full-time job, grief from the loss of his friend, the loss of his military career, and the loss of his security clearance. Military leadership knew Zach was not well and they knew he was a risk to himself.

The top 10 most stressful life events include death of a loved one, separation, starting a new job, workplace stressors, financial problems, and chronic illness/injury. Zach’s mom shares he was dealing with six out of ten of those stressful life events at the age of 21. Wendy wonders why the military wouldn’t be especially cognizant of the fact they are molding young kids into warriors at a very impressionable time in life. At a time when young adults need guidance most, instead in the military environment, they are forced to deal with additional stressors, caused by military leadership in Zach’s case. Why would the same organization at the root of the cause of the downward spiral of young lives be interested in also pretending to care about suicide prevention of those same personnel? The moment Zach was let go from his full-time job was the moment he started to struggle. Why did he get let go? Why did it contribute to a need to use drugs to self-medicate? And one can only imagine the kind of grief Zach experienced after losing a close friend in such a tragic way. Did anyone refer Khamis or Zachary to mental health programs or the Department of Veterans Affairs?

It appears Zach’s source of pain or original stressor began when he lost his full-time federal military technician position as a Personnel Security Technician. After Zach lost Khamis, another high-paying job and his military career, his downward spiraled accelerated. Zach was dead less than six months after his friend passed. How can the National Guard implement a suicide prevention program when they are the suspected cause of the unit members’ downward spiral? Why did the National Guard choose to characterize ADHD treatment as a ‘mental health risk’? The prescription was used to assist with concentration and focus. Why would Adderall negatively impact a deployment when it is a fact the active duty deploy personnel on all kinds of prescribed medications? Why not help Zach transfer from Active Duty status back to his National Guard unit so he would be paid for drill weekends? How did Zach go from successfully holding great positions of responsibility within the unit to losing his entire military career? Why did they give Zach an ‘other than honorable’ discharge knowing it will negatively impact the rest of one’s working life, never mind the impact losing a security clearance has on anyone’s future financial security. Why did Zach have to lose everything? How does that help his mental health?

Wendy Mottas told the Dodge City Daily Globe that there is a stigma to be tough in the military. And this was confirmed the day the National Guard decided Zach was a “mental health risk” because he had a prescription for ADHD he wasn’t even currently taking. Each Commander has the ultimate say on whether or not an individual can still perform despite taking medication. The prescription was for concentration and focus and not something that had to be a military career ender. Wendy said her son could have used extra support following Khamis’s death and that she would like to see mental health be taken more seriously by the Kansas Army National Guard. While she realizes there were many factor’s influencing Zach’s death, she doesn’t understand why the National Guard wouldn’t offer to help him like so many soldiers with substance abuse are assisted. In Zachary’s case it appears leadership actively contributed to the decline of Zach’s mental health. Who at the Kansas Army National Guard would offer help to Zach after the chain of command (supervisors and leadership) decides a soldier is a “shitbag”? How does the Kansas Army National Guard implement a command driven suicide prevention program when they are the same leadership contributing to a downward spiral? How can the same people tasked with punishing their personnel with a heavy hand simultaneously help prevent a suicide or untimely death of young soldiers? At the very least, in this situation, the National Guard needs to upgrade this soldier’s other than honorable discharge to honorable to make this right for Zach and his family.  It’s one thing to let someone go, it’s an entirely different thing when a person’s life and future is destroyed.

“The military still has to take some responsibility for this, I think, and I think more could have been done to be preventative and be proactive instead of reactive. They have a responsibility to these young men and women. It’s not to live their lives for them or to be mommy or daddy or anything like that, but the soldiers still have to live by the army creed, and in order to do that, they have a role in that.” -Wendy Mottas (quote in Dodge City Daily Globe)

Source: Wendy Mottas (Zachary Schaffer’s mother)

Related Links:
Obituary: Zachary L. Schaffer, Kansas Army National Guard
Obituary: Khamis A. Naser, Kansas Army National Guard
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation in wake of suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation in wake of suicides
Kansas National Guard Captain Submits Resignation in Wake of Suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation over handling of suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation over concerns of soldier suicide
Kansas Guard captain resigns over concern about suicides
Kansas Guard brigade captain resigns over suicide concerns
Kansas Guard brigade captain resigns over suicide concerns
Governor Kelly to sign bill aimed at preventing National Guard suicide
Sen. Moran, Bipartisan Colleagues Raise Concerns Over Alarming Increase in National Guard Suicides
Moran requests DOD review of rising National Guard suicide rate
Sen. Moran joins bi-partisan group of senators addressing national guard suicides
Bi-Partisan Senate Group Calls Attention to National Guard Suicide Rate
Department of Veterans Affairs: National Guard and Reserve
10 Most Stressful Life Events

Fear Thy Neighbor Premiered ‘Mistress of Death’ on ID: Linda Cowan Convinced Son Vinson Thomas-Ward Cowan to Kill Woman Next Door (July 7, 2018)

ID Go: Two women living next to each other since childhood descend into bitter conflict when the ex husband of one starts seeing the other. Add property issues to this toxic mix and the result is an act of shocking violence that engulfs all. -Mistress of Death, Fear Thy Neighbor (Investigation Discovery: S5, E6)

On December 18, 2009, Army veteran Vinson Thomas-Ward Cowan shot at and injured his neighbor Christie Jackson in Burnet, Texas. Christie Jackson and Vinson’s mother, Linda Cowan, were engaged in a bitter three month feud between neighbors after Christie’s estranged husband Rudy started dating Linda. What started out as a disagreement between neighbors ended in someone getting shot. It is believed that Linda Cowan enlisted the help of her son Vinson to shoot and kill Christie Jackson and he obliged because he was protective of his mother. Vinson followed through and indeed shot Christie in the head through the window of her own home. Miraculously, despite the severe head wound, Christie lived, but will forever be affected by the ordeal. On the night in question, Christie was sleeping with both her daughters who also are forever changed by the experience.

One of Vinson’s friends, Thomas Pierson, who was aware of the plan to shoot Christie and be a look-out that night, informed the police of Linda and Vinson’s plans to shoot Christie in retaliation for all the trouble she caused her. The bottom line was Linda wanted Christie out of the picture. Linda Cowan was jealous that Rudy continued to see Christie and their children and angry because she assumed Christie called the City of Burnet to complain about her septic issues. Linda wanted revenge and she wanted to date Rudy despite his intentions to continue seeing Christie. In 2013, Linda Cowan was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for second-degree felony of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. And Vinson Thomas-Ward plead guilty to ten years in prison for second-degree felony of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Christie’s mother sold the family home in Burnet.

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Burnet woman gets 15 years for her role in 2009 shooting (2013)
Burnet County man gets 10 years for 2009 shooting of woman (2013)
Linda Sue Cowan, Appellant v. The State of Texas, Appellee (2015)
Mistress of Death | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (S5, E6)
Mistress of Death | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (website)
Mistress of Death | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)
Fear Thy Neighbor: 23 Veteran Cases Featured on Investigation Discovery

Navy Sailor Brandon Caserta Died by Suicide at Naval Station Norfolk; Family Pushing for Suicide Prevention Legislation ‘The Brandon Act’ Focusing on Hazing & Bullying (June 25, 2018)

Brandon Caserta

AEAN Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy (photo courtesy of the Caserta family)

The Brandon Act:

I can honestly say no one is looking in this because at this point, no one cares. I just looked at the suicide rate right now in the Navy and it is now reported 43 for the year so far. I looked at it on Wednesday of last week and it was at 37. What the heck is going on and when will someone anyone going to start caring about the men and women in our Armed Forces? We need to respect the flag AND the men and women who defend it and save their lives like they do us. We all need to write to our senators and congressional staff. We need The Brandon Act passed and quickly.

I’m going to explain what “The Brandon Act” is. It is designed to be a safe word that men and women in our Armed Forces can use if they are subjects of any kind of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional or mentally. Abuse comes in many, many forms to include bullying, hazing, threats, sexual, abusive leadership, and any kind of mental and emotional abuse. These are just a few abusive tactics that can be done to someone. “The Brandon Act” protects those who come forward asking for help. It is designed for these men and women to come forward and get the help they need and if the abuse merits it, the sailor or troop will have a right to ask to be reassigned to another command or unit without any retaliation whatsoever from anyone in their current command or their next assignment. Our hope is to bring suicides to an end and by using this “Act” will hopefully allow them the courage to get help when they need it and get them healed and back on the right path. This “Act” is in front of Congress right now and hopefully very soon, they will approve and pass it once it’s completely written. Thank you for reading. #thebrandonact

-Patrick and Teri Caserta (Brandon Caserta’s parents)

Sailor’s Death at Naval Station Norfolk Ruled Suicide:

Sailor’s death at Naval Station Norfolk ruled suicide. -WAVY TV 10 (June 26, 2018)

Peoria Family Hopes for Change in Military Culture After Son Takes His Own Life:

As Teri Caserta entered her son’s bedroom in their Peoria home, she broke down. It’s an emotion that Teri 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)

Parents of Norfolk-Based Sailor Who Committed Suicide Want Changes:

Brandon Caserta, 21, was a sailor. He died by suicide while stationed in Norfolk. His parents hope new legislation will protect future military men and women. -13 News Now (October 4, 2019)

Updates on The Brandon Act:
The Brandon Act | Facebook Public Page
‘Everybody’s overworked’ — string of Navy suicides raises concerns over sailor stress and toxic leadership
Following son’s death, Capital Region family raises flag on suicides in Navy
Family of Sailor who committed suicide at Naval Station Norfolk pushes for change
Parents hopeful sailor son’s suicide leads to legislation

Navy AEAN Brandon Caserta was stationed with the Helicopter Combat Sea Squadron 28 (HSC-28) at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia when he died by suicide on June 25, 2018. While Brandon’s parents were on the phone with Navy leadership at the Squadron, Brandon walked out on the flight line, apologized to the plane captain (who is in-charge of the flight line), and hurled himself into a helicopter rotor, dying instantly. AEAN Caserta had a brief career with the Navy and it didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. He had failed Special Warfare Training and was transferred into a new career field as a result. And then unexpectedly Brandon broke his collar-bone in a bicycle accident, which also negatively impacted his Navy career. At the moment Brandon Caserta made his final walk out to the flight line, his father Patrick Caserta was on the phone with the command expressing concern for his son’s welfare. Patrick was making plans to fly out to Naval Station Norfolk to explore his son’s legal options.

Desperate for answers, the Casertas reached out to Brandon’s chain of command and friends but eventually everyone stopped responding. The Casertas were told by many friends in Brandon’s command that leadership ordered a cessation of communications. Before the silence, Brandon’s friends shared that they thought he appeared to be suffering from depression, feelings of worthlessness, and anger, hence the reason he left a note asking the Navy be held accountable. As a result of the information gleaned from the note and those who knew Brandon, the HSC-28 conducted an investigation of itself; basically the fox guarding the henhouse. Although they knew months in advance of the problems, the report did note that Brandon’s supervisor had a history of berating and belittling those who worked for him. As a matter of fact, this supervisor could have been court-martialed under UCMJ Article 93, Cruelty and Maltreatment, but he wasn’t. Instead, Military.com reports he received no punishment and was transferred with a “declining evaluation” (and this was only after it was heard and reported that he made “derogatory and inflammatory comments concerning the deceased”).

“I want to see as many people fired, kicked out or, at the very least, lose rank.” -Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy

According to Military.com, the Navy’s suicide rate in 2018 was the highest it’s ever been. And it was reported that a post-mortem analyses of suicides in the military usually showed the victim “faced major issues like financial problems, relationship problems, medical issues, and mental health conditions.” The military reporter reached out to Dave Matsuda, an anthropologist at California State University-East Bay, who researched and studied a suicide cluster among soldiers in Iraq in 2010. Matsuda’s research found some non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers in the chain of command made their subordinates’ lives a “living hell.” Matsuda also added that although the “bad leaders weren’t fully responsible for the suicides, they helped push the soldiers over the edge.” But in a system where the Navy is investigating the Navy, we have learned that the Chain of Command isn’t going to admit there is a problem. They have a history of blaming the victim and/or scapegoating an enlisted NCO or lower ranking military officer.

Brandon’s father, Patrick Caserta, a retired U.S. Navy sailor himself, asserts the Command was “so hostile, corruptive and unethical,” that they tormented Brandon and drove him past the brink of despair. Patrick and Teri Caserta wholeheartedly believe the command murdered their son. Patrick reminded us that the military talks about trauma, exposure to war, and mental health, but they don’t talk about harassment and bullying. He believes military leadership do not want to admit harassment, bullying, and retaliation happen or admit they are at fault. In the days and weeks that followed their son’s death, Patrick and Teri also learned from those who worked with Brandon that they were all dealing with a high operational tempo and manpower shortfalls. Brandon’s co-workers believed “personal issues were not a high priority and Brandon’s death could have been prevented.” And an anonymous message sent to the squadron commander on June 18, 2018 revealed the abuse was ongoing before Brandon died.

According to the message, Brandon’s supervisor called subordinates his “bitches,” referred to the chiefs as “douchebags” and “dumbasses” behind their backs, and “treated workers worse than garbage” and “like dogs.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

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Military.com reported that Brandon Caserta’s death was one of 68 Navy suicides in 2018. They also reported the rise in military suicides appears to mirror an increase in suicides among the general U.S. population. Suicide experts are struggling to understand why so many are dying by suicide. Some factors for suicide risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), include “spending time in prison or jail, having a mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem, experiencing family violence, a history of suicide, and having guns in the home.” Brandon’s family believes their son’s suicide was a direct result of toxic leadership, one superior who harassed and bullied Brandon, pushing him over the edge. According to Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, a toxic leader “operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest,” consistently using “dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves.” Although it appears there are multiple variables that impact when a service member chooses to die by suicide, the experts need to find out the why so we can save our service member’s lives. What is happening in their environment that makes them feel like suicide is the only way out?

The directive states, toxic leaders exhibit a combination of “self centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

Military.com reported that one of Brandon’s co-workers helped shed some insight into the toxic climate at the Navy’s HSC-28 squadron. He accused leadership of deploying personnel in retaliation for speaking up and not doing as they are told. This particular individual requested that he remain at the squadron when his wife got sick because he needed to support her and their two girls. But his leadership was going to deploy him with a detachment anyways. So he filed an Inspector General complaint and thankfully was transferred out of the squadron in a couple weeks. He believes Navy personnel have a “fear of retribution” because the command is resentful of the service members who can’t deploy. Brandon’s family experienced a form of retaliation as well. The unit held a memorial service for Brandon four days after he died but Patrick and Teri said they were not invited by anyone in the HSC-28 command. Patrick Caserta believes the family was excluded out of sheer pettiness; leadership wanted to continue to conceal and coverup what truly happened. Regardless of the reason, it was a violation of Navy policy.

“Navy policy states that the command should provide round-trip travel and allowances to family members to attend a command memorial service.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

On May 31, 2019, after the command learned that Military.com had made phone calls regarding the Casertas’ allegations, Navy personnel indicated there was a “culture of fear” at the squadron. The Casertas are so angry and distraught that communications have stopped that they offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who came forward with information that “lead to successful prosecution of individuals in their son’s chain of command.” They have also met with the congressional staff of at least a dozen senators and representatives, including Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to discuss “the treatment they and Brandon received, request an independent investigation, and promote efforts to prevent suicide linked to toxic leadership.” They also would like to see the Navy implement Brandon Caserta’s request in his suicide note regarding the re-rate process: “sailors who don’t complete the training for the rate they initially sought should be able to select any other training they qualify for with their Armed Services Vocational Battery (ASVAB) test results.”

Anthropologist Dave Matsuda told Military.com that to truly address the problem of suicide in the armed forces, “all the services need to consider ‘toxic leadership’ when analyzing the deaths of each individual.” If we understand the why, we can prevent suicide. Matsuda also believes operational leaders should not rely on “the boot camp strategy of breaking people down to build them back up.” Matsuda concluded with the assertion that indeed a toxic command climate can trigger suicidal behavior. One year later, Patrick and Teri Caserta are determined to get justice for their only son, because they believe this tragedy could’ve been prevented. The pair also report that Congress is drafting “The Brandon Act,” which is “federal legislation aimed at ending military suicides, holding commanders accountable, and halting the bullying and hazing that occurs within military ranks.” Please contact both the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) members and your Senators and Representative to ask that they too support our troops by supporting The Brandon Act. Our service members deserve a chance at a beautiful life post military.

“The Brandon Act” is designed to be a safe word that men and women in our Armed Forces can use if they are subjects of any kind of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional or mentally. Abuse comes in many, many forms to include bullying, hazing, threats, sexual, abusive leadership, and any kind of mental and emotional abuse. These are just a few abusive tactics that can be done to someone. “The Brandon Act” protects those who come forward asking for help. It is designed for these men and women to come forward and get the help they need and if the abuse merits it, the sailor or troop will have a right to ask to be reassigned to another command or unit without any retaliation whatsoever from anyone in their current command or their next assignment. Our hope is to bring suicides to an end and by using this “Act” will hopefully allow them the courage to get help when they need it and get them healed and back on the right path. This “Act” is in front of Congress right now and hopefully very soon, they will approve and pass it once it’s completely written. Thank you for reading. –Justice for Brandon Caserta on Facebook (June 20, 2019) #TheBrandonAct

Sources: Patrick Caserta (Brandon’s father), Patricia Kime, Military.com, and related links

Related Links:
The Brandon Act | Facebook Public Page
Obituary: Brandon Patrick Caserta (June 25, 2018)
3rd Cowpens CO Fired Since 2010; CMC Relieved (2014)
Army Takes On Its Own Toxic Leaders (2014)
‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh (2017)
Navy: Failures of Leaders, Watchstanders Led to Deadly Ship Collisions (2017)
Former MCPON Bawled Out Staff, Made Sailors Fetch Coffee: Investigation
His Suicide Note Was a Message to the Navy. The Way He Died Was the Exclamation Point
When Driven to Suicide, at a Minimum it is Manslaughter! – The Navy’s Incessant Harassment of Brandon Caserta Ultimately Drove Him to Suicide – People Were Promoted, Instead of Held Accountable
Suicides Are Still On The Rise In The Military — Is That Really a Surprise? Spoiler: The Answer Is ‘No.’
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life (YouTube)
An Open Letter to Air Force Commanders about Suicide
‘Everybody’s overworked’ — string of Navy suicides raises concerns over sailor stress and toxic leadership
Following son’s death, Capital Region family raises flag on suicides in Navy
Family of Sailor who committed suicide at Naval Station Norfolk pushes for change
Parents hopeful sailor son’s suicide leads to legislation
Parents of Norfolk-based sailor who committed suicide want changes
Sailor’s death at Naval Station Norfolk ruled suicide
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Parents of Norfolk-based sailor who committed suicide want changes
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)
Military Rape Survivor Army Sgt. Amanda Sheldon Died by Suicide After Suffering With Depression; Family Hopes Her Death May Spark Change (October 7, 2010)
Lauterbach Case Prompts Policy Reforms for Victims of Crime in the Military (December 25, 2011)
Army Directive 2011-19: Expedited Transfer or Reassignment Procedures for Victims of Sexual Assault (3 Oct 11)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members (2016)
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (2017)
Are More Male’s Victims of Violent Crime in the United States Than Females? (2017)
September: U.S. Department of Defense Casualties Report from September 11, 2001 to Present (2017)
Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces, Transfer Policies Panel (2017)
48 Hours NCIS Premiered ‘Trail of Fire’ on CBS: Holley Wimunc, Domestic Violence, and the Holley Lynn James Act (June 26, 2018)
ProPublica: ‘Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed by Its Own Navy’ (February 6, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
The Brandon Act | Justice for Brandon Caserta
Justice for Brandon Caserta | Facebook
Navy Failed Their Son | ABC 15 Arizona

How do we stop the retaliation from happening so victims of crimes in the military feel safe to report?

Even if you do go forward with a case and it’s adjudicated in your favor, it’s the retaliation that kicks our ass and de-rails our careers. Why is this happening? If you wonder why some who have been assaulted have severe PTSD, it’s the retaliation compounding the original trauma. And if you don’t report and try and soldier on, it catches up with you anyways in the form of behavioral issues and suicidal ideation. How do we stop the retaliation in the military from happening so victims of crimes feel safe to report?

Related Links:
Home Base Veteran Story: Jennifer & Lee Norris
Personal Story and Testimony of TSgt. Jennifer Norris, US Air Force Retired, Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (2013)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Massachusetts School of Law Interviews Veteran Jennifer Norris About Violent Crime in the Military & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What Happens When a Rape is Reported in the Military?

Lt. Col. Teresa James Shares Experience with Sexual Assault & Reprisal at DoD IG Worldwide Hotline Outreach Conference (July 28, 2016)

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The Department of Defense Inspector General’s office held a Worldwide Hotline Outreach Conference today July 28, 2016. One of their keynote speakers was Lt Col Teresa James, US Army, Retired, highlighted before on this site. The DoD IG twitter feed shared excerpts from her presentation summarized below. As she spoke, I tweeted with them to bring awareness to the specifics that Lt Col James noted and why they are so important. For a complete listing of the tweets by the DoD IG, please visit their Twitter feed here.

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The Army Stands Ready to Investigate Any Reports & Allegations of Sexual Assault Going Back to 2000 or Earlier

Claim: Sexual assault victims punished and lose health care benefits as a result.

HRW claims in their report that many service members lose their military career after being sexually assaulted & they have discharge papers that prevent them from getting health benefits.

DoD rejected the conclusions of the HRW report.

DoD states “they have many victims of sexual assault who receive honorable discharges from the military. There is a policy in place that offers assistance for anyone that reports a sexual assault. It is critical every survivor is treated with sensitivity that they deserve.”

Media states that victim was raped multiple times while serving her country and that they contacted the DoD and Army about her case, a case from 15 years ago.

She states that she was military intelligence, had lots of prescreening prior to enlistment. Promising path, requested by Chain of Command to apply to West Point. After first rape in military, her promising path turned to being retaliated against, and there were two more rapes for reporting the rape. It ended career with an illegal, bogus, discharge. Decade and a half later, still fighting to correct it.

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