The first time the U.S. military betrayed me was when I was raped — twice — by my commanding officer in the Navy.
The second betrayal was when the Veterans Administration (VA) denied me disability benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — which I have because I was raped in the military.
When applying for benefits from the VA, I had to “prove” that my rapes happened, through testimony from eyewitnesses, my ex-husband and others. This is a higher burden of proof than for other veterans applying for the same benefits — and only veterans applying for benefits because of sexual assault have to meet it. Even more, even after I had given it what it wanted, the VA failed to believe that the rapes had occurred or approve my benefits.
Today, I’m fighting back. I recently testified in front of Congress to show elected officials how the VA is failing countless veterans like me. I also started a petition on Change.org to build a nationwide outcry against the VA’s double standard preventing veterans who have been raped and sexually assaulted within the military from getting the benefits they deserve.
As a result of my rapes, I have endured decades of debilitating PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraines, a sexually transmitted disease, nine miscarriages, suicide attempts, homelessness and an end to my marriage. It took 23 years, in the end, for the VA to give me any benefits at all.
And I’m not alone. By DOD’s own estimates, over 19,000 service members are assaulted in the military each year. For countless veterans like me, a denied VA claim is the second betrayal, and can mean the difference between life and death. And yet only 1 in 3 applicants receives PTSD benefits for military sexual trauma. In comparison, more than half of veterans applying for PTSD benefits linked to other kinds of trauma are approved.
A few weeks ago, I watched another military rape survivor, Lance Corporal Nicole McCoy, start her own petition on Change.org. More than 300,000 people signed it, inspiring me to start my own petition to create change within the VA.
And I know public pressure to change the VA’s broken system can work: it has happened before, when the VA changed the requirements for combat veterans applying for benefits. The same can happen for veterans who are survivors of military sexual assault — but only if thousands of people join me by signing my petition.
My belief is that the VA wants me to fade away as quickly as possible, but I’m not going to let it off the hook. It’s really that simple. I will continue to serve my country and defend the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My campaign today is a part of that.
Please click here to sign my petition now, and call on the VA to eliminate double standards and extra hurdles for veterans suffering from military sexual trauma and seeking the benefits they’re entitled to.