Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (January 1, 2016 to Present): https://wp.me/p3XTUi-5oF
Dear Rep. Jared Golden,
I write to you as a victim of crime in the military and as a military crime historian. I have researched the US military’s crime problems for the last 10 years and have documented as much as humanly possible on my Military Justice for All website. I have over 1000 cases of suspicious deaths, homicide and missing cases. Fort Hood has been problematic for years. I visited both Senator Collins and Senator King in DC to warn them about the problems at Fort Hood in December 2017 and to ask them for their help. It fell on deaf ears. Much like Vanessa Guillen, I too was afraid to report sexual harassment and sexual assault for fear of retaliation. I didn’t report until my supervisor in the Chain of Command attempted to force himself on me. Prior to this incident, I experienced daily sexual harassment and he would give me assignments that isolated me so he could do it with no witnesses.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia is asking that the DoD IG do an investigation of the circumstances that led up to the murder of Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood. I am asking you to support her and all of our service members by adding your name to the list of representatives who support these efforts. Fort Hood leadership has failed time and time again and it’s due time that someone take a look at this problematic base. It’s a sad day when we lose 133 servicemembers stateside to violent crime, suicide, and training accidents compared to 2 combat deaths and 4 insider attacks overseas since 2016.
I also ask that you support legislation such as the Military Justice Improvement Act to give our service members a chance to report unsafe situations to an independent authority outside the Chain of Command. As long as service members are fearful of retaliation (which is very real and the reason I have compounded PTSD), we will continue to see high rates of PTSD, murder and suicide on military bases. According to authorities, Vanessa Guillen was murdered because she was planning on reporting someone she worked with for adultery, and this same individual may also have been sexually harassing her. It is unclear at this time who sexually harassed her but she told her family she was scared and feared reporting the sexual harassment to the Chain of Command because it wasn’t taken seriously and she feared retaliation.
Over the years, I have realized that most don’t realize what it’s like to be enlisted and this still rings true. Imagine how powerless we feel as lower enlisted when someone higher ranking than us can literally get away with crime because they are part of the reporting mechanism or they simply don’t care. While Congress sits on their hands, veterans are flocking to the VA to file PTSD claims and military families are grieving the loss of their loved ones whether it be by murder or suicide. I understand why someone might take their own life when they feel trapped and have no way out.
Please do the right thing and support Rep. Garcia, Rep. Speier and Senator Gillibrand.
My heart is heavy with the news we heard today and I still hold out hope that it’s not real. I don’t want to give up the hope that you are still out there and we will find you, as a dedicated, motivated team. So many people care about you. And a lot of people stepped forward and said yes, it happened to me too. The silence was finally broken and now we know for a fact that the same military justice system that failed us failed you too. My heart is broken. The writing was on the wall at Fort Hood. Prior to your disappearance, a team of people fought for you and all the other service members praying none of you would go missing or die whether by your own hand or someone else’s, both failures of leadership. The retaliation is real and we’ve been concerned that if we don’t deal with hazing, bullying, sexual assault and domestic violence appropriately then other more violent behavior would follow and it has.
Ten years of research and the creation of a website dedicated to military crime backs Vanessa up and all the other brave veterans who spoke up and shared their stories of heartbreak and betrayal. Although your safety has been of the utmost priority, we witnessed a shift because of you and because of what’s been going on at Fort Hood. I am so thankful you said something to your mother so everyone would know that sexual harassment is at the beginning of the continuum of harm and if not stopped only escalates. It’s like watching your future attacker plot when to make his move and you know it’s coming but there’s no way to escape. And then it’s too late. I’m not sure how I am going to sleep tonight but please know you are in my thoughts and I pray we can continue searching for you tomorrow and that what we learned is not true.
I was disappointed with the media today and how this was handled. I was especially disappointed with the headlines that purposefully made assumptions. I pray that justice will be served, that Fort Hood cleans up its act, and that your experience changes the entire military justice system. If this had been treated like the missing persons case it was, I may not be so angry knowing this is business as usual for the military. They replace us just as quickly as we disappear. The callousness and lack of regard for our fellow human, including murder victims, is sickening and heart breaking. Vanessa, please know how much you mean to me and so many other thousands of people. You are making a huge impact. Sending so much love and comfort to your family at this time, and anyone else who is struggling with today’s news.
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 Timeshere.
“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)
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)
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)
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
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.
“One of the women interviewed was Lt. Col. Teresa James, the highest ranking officer to come forward with a rape claim in the National Guard, according to a recent report by the Guard. The News4 I-Team first brought you her story when she said she believes her 34-year military career with the West Virginia National Guard was destroyed after she reported her rape. Lt. Col. James attended the news conference and told the I-Team, ‘There’s nothing else they can do to hurt me. They did everything they could possibly do. It’s effecting change. That’s why I’m out today. It’s effecting change, and if I have to speak it, shout it from the rooftops, that’s what I’m going to do.’ Read more from NBC Washingtonhere.
Hearing is Gillibrand’s First As Chair Of Senate Armed Services Subcommittee On Personnel – Has Been Leading The Fight To End Sexual Violence In Military
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released the following prepared remarks of her opening statement at today’s Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing examining sexual assault in the military:
“It is an honor and privilege to Chair this hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee this morning. I want to thank the Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, Senator Lindsey Graham, for his support and working with me to move this hearing forward as quickly as possible.
“I know that all of our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee share our deep commitment to improving the quality of life of the men and women who serve in our all-volunteer force on active duty, or in the National Guard and Reserves, their families, military retirees, and Department of Defense Civilian personnel.
“And that is why this hearing today is so important to me personally…and to thousands of servicemembers…and their families across the country.
“The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new. And it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long. The scourge of sexual violence in the military should be intolerable and infuriating to us all. Our best, brightest, and bravest join our armed forces for all the right reasons – to serve our country, protect our freedom, and keep America safe.
“The United States has the best military in the world and the overwhelmingly vast majority of our brave men and women serving in uniform do so honorably and bravely. But there is also no doubt that we have men and women in uniform who are committing acts of sexual violence and should no longer be allowed to serve.
“Too often, women and men have found themselves in the fight of their lives not in the theater of war – but in their own ranks, among their own brothers and sisters, and ranking officers, in an environment that enables sexual assault.
“And after an assault occurs, an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults happened in 2011 alone according to the Defense Department’s own estimates…some of these victims have to fight all over again with every ounce of their being just to have their voice heard…their assailant brought to any measure of justice… and the disability claims they deserve fulfilled. Congress would be derelict in its duty of oversight if we just shrugged our shoulders at these 19,000 sons and daughters…husbands and wives…mothers and fathers…and did nothing. We simply have to do better by them.
“When brave men and women volunteer to serve in our military they know the risks involved. But sexual assault at the hands of a fellow service member should never be one of them.
“Because not only does sexual assault cause unconscionable harm to the victim — sexual violence is reported to be the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among women veterans — but it destabilizes our military, threatens unit cohesion and national security. Beyond the enormous human costs both psychologically and physically, this crisis is costing us significant assets – making us weaker both morally and militarily.
“Already, this Committee and the Pentagon took some first steps on this issue as part of last year’s National Defense Authorization bill that President Obama signed into law. While obviously our work is not done, I am hopeful that we can build on these initial changes which include:
Ensuring that all convicted sex offenders in the military are processed for discharge or dismissal from the Armed Forces regardless of which branch they serve in;
Reserving case-disposition authority for only high-ranking officers in sexual assault cases;
Pushing the Pentagon to lift the combat ban that prevents women from officially serving in many of the combat positions that can lead to significant promotion opportunities. By opening the door for more qualified women to excel in our military, we will have increased diversity in top leadership positions, improving response from leadership when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual violence;
And an amendment introduced by my colleague Senator Jeanne Shaheen and based on my legislation, the MARCH Act, means that troops who become pregnant as a result of an act of rape no longer have to pay out of pocket to have those pregnancies terminated.
“Concerning our first panel of witnesses, I want to salute each of you for your courage today in telling your very painful and personal stories. It is my hope and belief that by committing this selfless act you are encouraging others to step forward and are also helping to prevent other crimes from going unpunished.
“We have a duty to you, and the thousands of victims you represent, to examine whether the military justice system is the most effective and fairest system it can be.
“Despite some very dedicated JAG officers, I do not believe the current system adequately meets that standard. The statistics on prosecution rates for sexual assaults in the military are devastating. Of the 2,439 unrestricted reports filed in 2011 for sexual violence cases – only 240 proceeded to trial. Nearly 70 percent of these reports were for rape, aggravated sexual assault or non-consensual sodomy.
“A system where less than 1 out of 10 reported perpetrators are held accountable for their alleged crimes is not a system that is working. And that is just reported crimes. The Defense Department itself puts the real number closer to 19,000! A system where in reality less than 2 out of 100 alleged perpetrators are faced with any trial at all is clearly inadequate and unacceptable.
“My view is that emphasizing institutional accountability and the prosecution of cases is needed to create a real deterrent of criminal behavior. The system needs to encourage victims that coming forward and participating in their perpetrator’s prosecution is not detrimental to their safety or future, and will result in justice being done. Because currently, according to the DOD, 47 percent of service members are too afraid to report their assaults, because of fear of retaliation, harm or punishment. Too many victims do not feel that justice is likely or even possible.
“We need to take a close look at our military justice system, and we need to be asking the hard questions, with all options on the table, including moving this issue outside of the chain of command, so we can get closer to a true zero tolerance reality in the Armed Forces. The case we have all read about at Aviano Air Base is shocking, and the outcome should compel all of us to take the necessary action to ensure that justice is swift and certain, not rare and fleeting.
“I had the opportunityto press Secretary Hagel on the issue of sexual violence in the military during his confirmation hearing. Secretary Hagel responded by saying, ‘I agree it is not good enough just to say zero tolerance. The whole chain of command needs to be accountable for this.’
“I could not agree more. I was very pleased with the Secretary’s public statement earlier this week that he is open to considering changes to the military justice system as well as legislation to ‘ensure the effectiveness of our responses to the crime of sexual assault.’
“It is with this spirit as our guide that I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
“After Ranking Member Graham makes his opening remarks, we will hear testimony from my colleague from California, Senator Barbara Boxer who has been a leading voice on this issue. In last year’s Defense bill she successfully included an amendment that prohibits any individual who is convicted of a felony sexual assault from being issued a waiver to join the military.
“We will then have the following witnesses who have either been the victims of sexual assault while serving in the military, or are very knowledgeable advocates for addressing the issue of sexual assaults in the military:
Anu Bhagwati is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Service Women’s Action Network. Anu is a former Captain and Company Commander, she served as a Marine officer from 1999 to 2004. While serving, Anu faced discrimination and harassment as a woman in the military, and has borne direct witness to the military’s handling of sexual violence.
BriGette McCoy, former Specialist in the U.S. Army. BriGette served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1991. She was just eighteen years old when she signed up to serve her country in the first Gulf War. While stationed in Germany from 1988 to 1991, she was sexually assaulted by a non-commanding officer.
Rebekah Havrilla, former Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Rebekah served in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2008. She was the only female member of a bomb squad in eastern Afghanistan and was attacked by a colleague at Salerno Forward Operating Base near the Pakistani border during her last week in the country in 2007.
Brian Lewis, former Petty Officer Third Class, US. Navy. Brian enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June of 1997. During his tour aboard USS Frank Cable (AS-40), he was raped by a superior non-commissioned officer and forced to go back out to sea after the assault.
“I encourage you to express your views candidly and to tell us what is working and what is not working. Help us to understand what we can do to address this unacceptable problem of sexual assaults in the military.
“Later this afternoon at 2:00 p.m., we will have a third panel of witnesses from the Department of Defense, and the military services, including the Coast Guard. I want to acknowledge that many of those witnesses are here this morning to listen to the critically important testimony from our first and second panels and I would like to thank them for their participation.”