Pentagon Using Change in Diagnoses to Hide Sexual Assault Cases, Critics Charge; It's Not the Secretary; It's the System

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Pentagon Using Change in Diagnoses to Hide Sexual Assault Cases, Critics Charge; It's Not the Secretary; It's the System


Byline: Jacqueline Klimas, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lawmakers say they fear the Defense Department has found a new way to drum sexual assault victims out of the service: by diagnosing adjustment disorder and having them discharged from the military.

It's the latest technique the department has used to retaliate against troops who report they were sexually assaulted, according to members of Congress who are determined to use this year's defense policy debate to curtail the practice and get justice for the service members who they say were illegally discharged in the past.

"It's like a 'Whac-A-Mole,'" said Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat. "Every time we shut them down on something, they'll find a way around it."

Using the adjustment discharge diagnosis is the latest tactic, Ms. Speier said. Before 2007, it was giving complaining service members a "personality disorder" diagnosis. According to a Vietnam Veterans of America study, the military discharged 31,000 service members because of a personality disorder from 2001 to 2010.

But after lawmakers and the press reported on the high rate of such disorder diagnoses tied to sexual assault cases, the number dropped -- and the number of adjustment diagnoses began to rise.

In the Air Force, for example, personality disorder discharges went from more than 1,200 in fiscal 2007 down to just over 100 two years later in fiscal 2009, according to a Yale Law report. Adjustment disorder discharges in the Air Force spiked over that same period, increasing sevenfold.

"They've taken personality disorder discharges and are now charging it as an adjustment disorder discharge," said Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women's Action Network. "It's the same process with a different label."

Congress is trying to take the first steps. Ms. Speier introduced a provision to the defense policy bill that requires the Defense Department's inspector general to review personality and adjustment disorder discharges for victims of sexual assault to see if officials followed the rules to diagnose and discharge. If not, the bill would require a service member's record to be updated.

"We've got to right a wrong here, and I think that it was a catchall phrase to basically sweep members of the military out that they didn't want to have making noise, and that was one way of silencing them. It's shameful, and [we've] got to rectify it," she said.

The Defense Department declined to provide a statement on the changing diagnoses or on a potential review of the numbers.

With sexual assaults reaching what some lawmakers call epidemic proportions in the military, both the Pentagon and Congress are trying to find ways to curtail the abuse. But some lawmakers say they need to also make sure the victims aren't getting left behind. …

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