The Defense Department's Office of Inspector General plans to look into whether service members were improperly forced out of the military since 2009 due to mental health issues after reporting their sexual assaults.
In a June 24 memo to the Army, Navy and Air Force, Randolph Stone, deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, said the OIG plans to first identify service members who made unrestricted sexual assault reports since the beginning of 2009, and identify service members by type of separation after filing such reports. The OIG will then evaluate whether those who were separated for non-disability medical conditions — including personality and adjustment disorder — were done according to DoD rules.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., added a provision to the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act requiring the OIG to review separations of troops for personality and adjustment disorders after reporting their sexual assaults. This is often done to retaliate against service members for coming forward, she said.
"For years, service members have been forced out of the military simply for reporting a sexual assault, often under the pretext of a false personality or adjustment disorder diagnosis," Speier said in an April 30 release. "This report will finally allow us to assess the scale of this issue so that we can begin to crack down on this life-altering type of retaliation."
Protect our Defenders and Human Rights Watch — two organizations that advocate for survivors of sexual assault in the military — applauded the OIG's plan to look into the problem.
"The use of these inappropriate and often retaliatory discharges is a huge problem," said Miranda Petersen, programs and policy director for Protect our Defenders. "Unfortunately, we still don't know how widespread it really is."
Petersen and Sara Darehshori, a senior U.S. counsel at Human Rights Watch, said that being separated for a personality or adjustment disorder is stigmatizing and traumatizing for someone who has suffered a sexual assault — and causes significant hardships. Being discharged for a non-disability medical condition means service members aren't eligible for disability payments, have limited access to Veterans Affairs care, don't have access to GI Bill benefits, and can hurt their chances of getting a security clearance and finding a new job.
Darehshori said some troops who were discharged due to a personality or adjustment disorder after a sexual assault have had those diagnoses used against them in divorce proceedings and lost custody of their children.
Getting an improperly diagnosed disorder removed from one's official record is also next to impossible, they said.
They hope that the OIG's review will help some ex-troops get their records changed, if they were found to have been unjustly diagnosed.
The committee told the IG to submit its report to congressional defense committees by May 1, 2016.
Congress originally asked the IG to review separations dating to the beginning of 2002. But OIG spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said that information going back that far might not be reliable, so the scope was narrowed to 2009.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.