Sunday, May 25, 2008

The VA can't be bothered with MST

Women have always played a role in our military going back to the founding of of our nation. However, as we all know, in today's conflicts women are playing a far different and far greater role. Women now make up 14% of our current active duty guard and reserve forces. Some units, including military police, are using an increased number of females to fill jobs that were traditionally held by male personnel. And because of the conflicts of today, we have no clear frontlines and women, like all of our service members, are always on the frontline -- riding on dangerous patrols, guarding pivotal check points and witnessing the horrors of war first hand. However, while women's numbers are rising on the battle field, up until now women have remained a small minority at the VA. According to the VA, there are more than 1.7 million women veterans but only 255,000 of those women actually use the VA health care services.

That's US Senator Patty Murray speaking at the opening of last Wednesday's hearing held by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. She would explain the bill she's sponsored, S. 2799 Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2008, at the start of the hearing. Explain it to who? Dr. Gerald M. Cross, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs -- that would be the department opposing Murray's bill (and opposing pretty much all benefits to Veterans). Murray explained one aspect of her bill: "It will implement a program to train, educate and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with Military Sexual Trauma [MST] and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]."

Questioned by Murray about all the VA opposes in the bill, on the issue of MST, Cross objected to the "timetables" and the "cookie-cutter nature" of it. He couldn't explain that nor why the VA thought it unreasonable for Congress -- the controller of the purse -- to not only implement a program but to explain the time schedule the VA must follow. What it really comes down is that the appointed leadership at the VA, like the Bully Boy in the White House who handed them their jobs, don't want to damn thing for veterans and they certainly don't believe veterans are worth spending a dime on. That's really what's going on. The two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought on the cheap and the care of veterans is funded on the cheap.

Noting a resource for those suffering from MST, VETWOW -- Women Organizing, Women, Veteran Advocacy. On their home page, they note:

It is with heavy hearts that the women and men of are compelled, once again, to recognize and publicize the inexplicable and tragic loss of another rape victim who came forward to testify against her perpetrator. We refuse to put the term, "alleged" in that phrase because it does not do justice to Maria Lauterbach's strength and fortitude to carry on in the face of such adversity.
We are alarmed by the appearance of impropriety on behalf of the Marine Corps. We are concerned that this will be yet one more dangerous precedent set for Military Sexual Trauma victims service wide. Maria's status as UA [unauthorized absence] SHOULD have been alarming because of her late term pregnancy, and her status as a victim-witness in a sexual assault. These circumstances alone should have inspired her command superiors to protect her from unwanted attention and violent assault.
Many members of our organization have come forward with accounts that bear striking similarities to this case. Victim character assassination, lack of meaningful protection, and the horror of having to live and work in close quarters with one's attacker[s]are all-too common occurrences in these situations.

If you don't know who Maria Lauterbach is maybe you still think Amy Goodman is a 'reporter' and that she goes 'where the silences are' and 'breaks the sound barrier' and offers you five hours of a week of anything that could be considered useful. For the record, Lauterbach's story is yet another story Goody never found time to tell -- even in a headline.

So we'll use the "Iraq snapshots" to bring up you up to speed. From the January 10th snapshot:

Maria Lauterbach is missing. AP reports she is eight-months pregnant and a Lance Corporal marine whose mother filed a missing person report on her December 19th. CNN reports that she "was assaulted by a superior officer" and, according to Sherrif Ed Brown, that she was due to give testimony about the assault. WARL reports, "Lauterbach's debit card was used on Christmas Eve to withdraw money from an automated teller machine, according to an affidavit attached to a search warrant in the case. The white man who used the card tried to cover the ATM camera with a rag, the affidavit said." Margo Rutledge Kissell (Dayton Daily News) reports, "Onslow County Sherriff Ed Brown said in a news conference Thursday that the Marine sergeant who had been deployed to California is being brought back to North Carolina 'so we can look him in the eyes and ask him some questions.' Brown said the decision to return him came after authorities met Wednesday with the commander at Camp Lejeune, where Lauterback is stationed." Rutledge Kissel also notes that Lauterbach's baby "is due Tuesday".

From the January 11th snapshot:

Yesterday, we noted that Maria Lauterbach had been missing since mid-December. The soldier who was eight months pregnant when she went missing is now said to have been murdered and CNN reports that Onslow Country Sherriff Ed Brown stated today that they are looking for her corpse and that Ceasar Armando Lauren ("a fellow Marine whom Lauterbach had accused of sexual assault") is a suspect. WTOL quotes family neighbor Kent Zimmerman saying that Maria Lauterbach was "very polite, very respectful." The Cleveland Leader states, "According to court documents, the anticipated birth of Lauterbach's baby 'might provide evidentiary credence to charges that she was sexually assaulted by a senior military person.' Investigators also said that the military had been pursuing rape charges against Lauren, and had plans to hold a hearing in December."

From the January 14th snapshot:

Turning to the United States where a search is on for the killer of US marine Maria Lauterbach. As noted in Thursday's snapshot and Friday's snapshot, the Onslow County sheriff's office was doing what the US military refused to do: taking seriously the disappearance of 8-months pregnant Lauterbach. Maria Lauterbach went missing in mid-December and, for some strange reason, the US military didn't find that an issue or concern despite the fact that she was due to give testimony about the assault she had reported -- by a fellow marine -- in April. The US military refused to address the assault for months and months and when Maria disappeared, they didn't really think that was important either. On Saturday, Leo Standora (New York Daily News) reported that a body had been found in a grave of the back yard of Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean and that police suspected him to be the murderer. This would be the same man that Lauterbach had filed assault charges against and the assault was rape. In April she filed those charges and the US military did nothing. In December she went missing and the US military did nothing. The sheriff's department was beginning the search for Laurean on Friday because he went missing on Friday. The US military despite knowing the details of the charges, knowing that the trial was finally approaching when Maria disappeared, despite knowing that Maria had disappeared did nothing to secure Laurean and he is believed to have slipped away from base in the early morning hours of Friday. The police suspected Laurean because his wife had earlier turned over a note he wrote her in which Lauren claimed that Maria killed herself and he just buried Maria's body. That's not what the evidence at the crime scene suggested with splattered blood and the fact that there was an effort to burn Maria's corpse.

CNN reports that Onslow County sheriff's office believes Maria Lauterbach was murdered Dec. 15, 2007 apparently based on forensic evidence (presumably gathered from the blood inside the house of Ceasar Armando Laurean and from the grave behind it). The autopsy results of the corpse aren't completed yet and they haven't announced that it is Maria Lauterbach (only that they think it is); however, she was eight months pregnant when she disappeared and the corpse buried behind Ceasar Armando Lauren's home was pregnant as well. Maria Lauterbach's uncle Peter Steiner maintains, apparently speaking for Maria's family, that Laurean would have been the father of the child and that conception took the form of rape by Laurean. The US military, with a lot more than egg on their face, offer the excuse that the vanished Laurean (who vanished last week) was never "taken into custody after Lauterbach reported the alleged rape because there was information the two carried on 'some sort of friendly relationship'" -- which if the military thinks it's an excuse isn't. If they want to claim that they did nothing -- and they did nothing -- because they thought Lauterbach was bringing false assault charges then they had every duty and obligation to resolve the issue quickly. If they found her statements to be false, they were doing a disservice to Laurean by allowing the charges to stand month after month. She disappeared in the middle of December. She made her criminal charges to the military in April. If the military thinks 'we didn't believe her' is an excuse that'll give them a pass, they're mistaken. For nearly nine months, that would mean, they let what they assumed were false charges stand. Jerry Allegood (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Lauterbach's family has said authorities did not aggressively investigate her rape allegation against Laurean." That would be military authorities and that is an understatment. A full investigation into the command of Camp Lejune is needed and the death of Maria is one more example of what can happen when the US military command refuses to take seriously charges of assault, command rape, rape and other crimes taking place within the military.

From the January 16th snapshot:

In the US, the search continues for Cesar Laurean who is suspected of killing Maria Laterbach who was due to testify against him -- to testify that he raped her. Maria disappeared in mid-December. The body found behind Cesar Laurean's home (in the 'burn pit') has been identified as Maria's. R. Gregg (Raleigh Chronicle) reports, "On Tuesday, during a nationally televised press conference, Onslow County District Attorney George Dewey Hudson, Jr. announced that Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach died of 'blunt force trauma' to the head." The US military knew of the rape charges in April when Maria made them. Yesterday, they began feeding the press (and some swallowed) that it wasn't really their fault because Maria said she didn't feel she was in danger. That claim may or may not be backed up but that does not push the burden off on the victim -- the US military had a responsible to do their jobs in a timely manner. They didn't. David Schoetz (ABC News) reports that spokesperson for the Marine Corps planned "to address the rape allegations Lautherbach had made against Laurean and how that information was handled after the woman was reported missing by her family Dec. 19 and her military status was changed to 'unauthorized absence'."

From the January 22nd snapshot:

Meanwhile Mary McCarty and Margo Rutledge Kissel (The Dayton Daily News) explain the reactions to the death -- assumed murder -- of US marine Maria Lauterbach's whose pregnant corpse was discovered buried in the backyard of the man she had accused of raping her, Cesar Laurean, with Marsha Williams declaring, "Absolutely she would still be alive if the Marines had taken her seriously. She was missing for three weeks yet it took them until Jan. 7 to come to that house? That's too much of a gap." Mary Lauterbach, Maria's mother, speaks to the reporters and clears up some of the distortions that have been put out by the presss and also quotes her stating, "My instinct tells me the majority of rapes are not reported. For a woman to come forward and complain about a rape takes a lot. It took Maria a lot." Another person who had to show tremendous courage to step forward was Suzanne Swift who was harassed, abused, assaulted and the victim of command rape while serving in Iraq. No Congressional investigation ever resulted from the crimes against Suzanne. None will probably result from the death of Maria Lauterbach. But, probably after the illegal war ends, there will be some show hearings in the US Congress where members pretend to be shocked by what's going on. We've seen that repeatedly. Congress refuses to utilize its oversight and the US military command knows they can ignore rape charges.

From the March 4th snapshot:

Maria Lauterbach is the US marine who vanished while pregnant. She was murdered. See the January 10th snapshot, the January 11th snapshot, the January 14th snapshot, the January 16th snapshot and the January 22nd snapshot. Maria's presumed murderer wasn't just anyone, he was someone she had stated raped her, stated to her commanding officers and she wasn't protected. They can argue that point all they want but Maria did accuse the man (thought to have murdered her) with rape and the US military didn't do anything. A hearing was coming up when she disappeared but . . . strangely . . . that didn't make the military take any more interest in him than they did prior. They treated it like it wasn't their problem. They acted as if it was Maria's problem. Jessica Pupovac (In These Times) examines the effects Maria's story is having which includes activist Susan Avila-Smith currently advising those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST) to be temporarily silent: "It breaks my heart to do that but I want to get them out alive and that's my main goal." Sgt. Myla Haider explains how investigations work (or don't) and notes, "The investigators themselves, when working on cases, tended to focus on reasons a victim could be lying. . . . [and use] tag team interviews [where] one agent after another is sent in there to 'get the truth' out of the victim. On occasion, that results in the victims becoming very upset." VETWOW is one organization that helps those with MST and Suzanne Swift is a strong example of how the US military refuses to do anything (Swift was assaulted and harassed, went through channels and was sent to 'training' on how not to be 'tempting' -- when the military refused to stop the abuse, Swift self-checked out).

Looking at the links features in the excerpts above, you should be aware of two things: (1) There was a lot more mainstream coverage that didn't get linked to and (2) Jessica Pupovac's In These Times piece was the only independent media coverage of it from a print outlet. And of course, Amy Goodman had so many other things to do.

Friday NOW on PBS noted Maria Lautherbach in a report by Maria Hinojosa (produced by Karla Murthy) where she spoke with some suffering from MST like Michelle Nagel described by Hinojosa as "6 feet, and 185 pounds, Michelle thought she was just as tough as her fellow male soldiers. But one event would change all that. Michelle was in her room. Alone with a fellow soldier she knew and trusted."

Michelle Nagle: It was just me and him in there watching football. And we--you flirt back and forth in the military. Like almost innocent flirting even with your guy friends. In--well, in my eyes, it was innocent flirting. And I guess he took it as an invitation. And--he--he attacked me one day. And I couldn't get him off of me. He's trying to go up my shirt. And trying to get my pants off. (starts crying) And I just--he got my arm pinned down. And there was nothing I could do. And I'm a big girl. I mean, and there--I'm a big girl. I--should be able to handle myself is what--I kept telling myself. "You're stronger than this. You're stronger than this." But I couldn't do anything.

The VA's Dr. Patricia Resick explained, "Women get raped in every environment. Just because somebody's got some kind of training, it doesn't mean they were given training on how to fend off a rapist. That's a different kind of combat." Natalie Robbins was assaulted and reported the assault. She explained how she thought the process was working at one point until the soldier who assaulted her, under orders to stay away from her, was still around her. Worse, a 'protector,' a superior, began stalking her. "He is stalking me," Robbins explained. "He won't leave me alone. He keeps coming to my places of work. And I would say, 'Leave me the heck alone.' 'Get out of here.' And I did things above and beyond my comfort level because of his position of authority. And still, he would--he would show up everywhere."

Going through channels again only resulted in more grief for Robbins and no protection. "The stalking never stopped," Hinojosa explained. "Instead, it turned into Natalie's worst nightmare. One night, while everyone else was asleep, she says that superior officer snuck into the barracks. In the pitch black, he found her cot, and forced himself on top of her. She was so afraid, she couldn't even scream. And then he raped her."

Many women don't report the assaults. They don't report because the process doesn't work, they don't report it because they know the horror stories, they don't report it because, as with Nagle, the whole thing is so shocking. The military tells you you're part of a family. That would make it not just shocking but also incest. They don't report because they aren't believed, because no matter what happens, they know their character will be slimed and slurred for many years go come. The attacks never stop.

Back on December 16th, we wrote "TV: ABC's Cesspool" (we is Ava and C.I.) and we mentioned some of the women being assualted in Iraq. There are several women in that and e-mails to this site have attempted to discredit the women, e-mails from males they worked with. A particularly nasty attack was launched on Amanda Blume by one man who never signed his real name ("Aaaa Bbb" is the name he used). Writing repeatedly in the month of April, he forwarded us photos of Amanda Blume, he forwarded us e-mails of her. He called her vile names and insisted that his 'proof' demonstrated she was lying. His 'proof' proved no such thing. His proof had nothing to do with her assault, had nothing to do with any of her public remarks and was nothing but a non-stop character assassination.

Ty reads the bulk of the e-mails to this site and in April, when three e-mails arrived from "Aaaa Bbb," Ty called us to ask who Amanda Blume is? He informed us some man was writing disgusting things about her. And he had e-mailed the guy to ask that same question which resulted in attack e-mails of what a liar and other nonsense followed by more attempts to smear Amanda Blume and fowards of trash he'd sent other sites. (One site was Wally's and Wally never saw it. Blume was noted in at least one "Iraq snapshot" and Wally must have reposted

that section at his site. Wally said if he had seen the e-mail, he would have deleted it because he didn't know Blume by name and wouldn't have known what the "crazy was e-mailing about and, the way these e-mails read, I wouldn't have cared.") It was non-stop e-mails, for days and days, of attempts to smear Blume with what, to these two women, looked like a pathetic male grasping onto anything he could in order to smear Blume. None of it applied to her assault. None of it implied Blume was a liar. Some of it implied she wasn't a princess in a castle or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and apparently that was supposed to shock us but there's little Amanda Blume did that we and other women haven't also done (that's assuming his nonsense was true and it's very likely that none of it was true). By "Aaaa Bbb"'s 'logic,' every woman in the United States could be raped and would have no reason to 'complain'. By his 'logic,' we all actively court rape just by leaving the house or living quarters.

It was enlightening because we're assuming "Aaaa Bbb" hasn't raped a woman (we could be wrong) but he was willing to go to any length to excuse his "buddy" -- he was willing to offer things that were the equivalent of saying "hello" to someone you pass in a hall. Who knew "hello" really meant, "Please drop by later and assault me. Make it really violent. I'm into that."?

Who knew that joining the military could be seen as declaring, "I'm one more piece of equipment the army's issued you"?

"Aaaa Bbb" certainly thinks that's all it takes. He thinks his poor "buddy" was . . . well not innocent. He can't bring himself to suggest that Blume wasn't assaulted. But his approach is: So what if she was, she asked for it.

In several of his fowards, he includes a message he apparently wrote to "SPC Daniels" where he begins by noting "I cannot let a NCO take the blame and get kicked out of the military" -- he's referring to Larnelle Lewis. Among her 'crimes' listed (we're avoiding repeating his character assassinations on Amanda Blume, we'll note this one because it is illuminating and presumably based on an interview she gave after leaving the military): "And she had the nerve to put down our military in a newspaper article." Yeah, reporting assault is an attack on the military -- that's very illuminating and it goes a long way towards explaining the reaction when victims of assault (females and males) come forward.

In our article that had "Aaaa Bbbb" so unhinged, here's the entire section on Amanda Blume:

The 20/20 segment offered that there was an attitude at KBR (and the State Department?) of "Boys will be boys." That appears to be the same mind set as when Swift's sent for 'training' in how not to 'invite' assaults. Or take Amanda Blume who had her fellow (male) soldiers show up at her barracks door screaming, "Why won't you date any of us, b**ch?" before they kicked down the door and began assaulting her. Her outcome? She was charged with assault for striking one of her attackers. She explained to Matthew D. LaPlanet (Salt Lake Tribune), "They told me they knew I had hit one of those guys and that was the only thing they could prove." The only thing they could prove or the only thing they wanted to prove? Certainly the door being kicked in could be verified . . . if they'd bothered to send anyone out to look into it -- but they did not send anyone out. The assaulter she hit? An investigation might wonder how he ended up in her barracks at night when he was "under orders to stay way" from her after he'd already been stalking her. Later, Larnelle Lewis assaulted her. This time she went with civilian justice and Lewis didn't contest the three counts of misdemeanor assault but even then he didn't get punished. Those are far from the only women being assaulted in the military.

In all of his many e-mails, "Aaaa Bbb" never addressed the gang of men showing up at her barracks door, kicking it down and assaulting her. Maybe he was one of them? (He claims he was a close friend. Prior to that incident, Amanda Blume probably considered many she was serving with to be her friends.) The incident got swept under the rug and Blume was very smart not to again rely on military 'justice' but instead to take the second assault to the civilian court. You'll note that "Lewis didn't contest the three counts of misdemeanor assualt" but "Aaaa Bbb" is convinced Lewis was railroaded -- apparently a self-railroading?

You can't write about an assault, we've learned, without at least one male who knows (or claims to know) the victim dashing off angry e-mails. The accusations that are supposed to prove the woman got what she deserved (men are assaulted too, we've only written of one male in the last three years and that resulted in no e-mails) with proof such as "I saw her praying with her eyes open" (that was e-mailed as "proof" about a woman who was assaulted while working for a contractor in Iraq), or she wore lipstick (that's "proof" that's been cited of many women) but what it really does come down to, what forces them to defend the rapists whether the rapists confess or not, is that they see it as an attack on the military. And not just an attack, but an attack from an outsider.

'Women do not belong in the military' is the subtext of each and every e-mail. Women are on 'guys' turf' and should leave. If they stay, they get what they deserve. Now where do you think they'd get ideas like that?

From a culture that refuses to take assault seriously. From a climate that encourages assault by downplaying (Hinosa speaking of 2007 in an earlier airing of the report: "But, out of 1400 investigations last year so far, only 72 people have received court-martials."), harassing the victim and, when all of that doesn't erase the crime, smearing the victim. That culture goes all the way the top.

At the top of this article, we started with Senator Murray's remarks and her advocacy for the treatment of MST victims. You'll remember that the VA's Cross objected to that portion of her plan and objected to "timetables."

Friday's report was an update of a September 7th report and, in that report, Hinojosa noted, "in 2004, congress mandated that the DOD form a task force to study sexual assault in the military services. But three years later, that task force has not met once." And the VA has the nerve to tell Senator Murray last week that they objected to "timetables"? That's part of the culture, that objection, that foot dragging, that allows MST to go untreated and creates more victims of assault.

NOW on PBS has provided a fact sheet on MST and from it we'll note these figures:

27% of men have experienced military sexual trauma
60% of women have experienced military sexual trauma
3.5% of men have experienced military sexual assault
23% of women have experienced military sexual assault
11% of women have experienced rape
1.2% of men have experienced rape
Service branch with the highest percentage of women reporting sexual trauma: Marine Corps
20% of women seeking care at VA facilities have experienced sexual trauma
1% of men seeking care at VA facilities have experienced sexual trauma
8.3 percentage of women report lifetime PTSD related to MST
More than half of the incidents took place at a military work site and during duty hours
The majority of the offenders in these cases were military personnel
Factors that increase risk of sexual assault for active duty females include presence of officers who condone or allow sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention

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