Sunday, August 7, 2011

VA application for PTSD/MST (redacted)

Notice of Disagreement

15 May 2011

This letter is to inform you that I, Robyn B. Blanpied, VA 060 42 1483 formally disagree with the denial of benefits dated May 25, 2010.

I disagree with the decision to deny me compensation for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Military Sexual Trauma.) Citing a lack of documentation adds insult to injury. There was no one to tell, and even a breath of it was enough to bring down the wrath of the senior staff. (see Tailhook attachments)
It wasn't until I was out of service for a decade that the term "Military related sexual trauma" was even used to describe experiences like mine. The trauma from the effects of rape, assault and physical violence does not rely on a written record. It is very real.

My PTSD is a result of assault, discrimination, unfair evaluations and harassment at the hands of fellow officers of the United States Armed Forces over the period of my service from July 1978 to my early retirement, Sept 1994.

The assaults and abuse were a direct result of policies approved and instituted by the government of the United States and Department of Defense, and are part of the long sad story of the Armed Forces failure to place their own anti-discrimination policies over the personal opinions, desires and whims of those in command over me.

Because of the institutional failure to place the value of my service and my commission as an officer above the fact of my gender, I believe I have been betrayed by my government, my fellow officers and the Department of Defense.

The trauma and degradation of this betrayal at the hands of fellow officers and the complicity of civilian oversight has robbed me of my ability to support myself by holding a job or to enjoy almost all aspects of life. I am in bankruptcy, on food stamps and a short time away from being homeless. They have left me with a deep mistrust of anything displaying the American flag or associated with the military.
Because of the institutional pressure not to object to the abuse of my person, rank and uniform, there is no personal paper trail other than rejection for assignments and promotion. There are, however, official statements, written policies and the public statements of the leadership of DoD , SecDef and Congress.

I am submitting a few of these official statements and policy positions of Congress, DoD and the Sec Def as being illustrative of the official mindset that encouraged the abuse, assault and discrimination that traumatized me as a result of serving my country.

Because my story reaches into the past, it does not fit into the OEF/OIF template. The abuse suffered by women currently in combat zones is rooted in the debasement of female officers like me. It reflects the official government view that women are not full citizens or soldiers. They are the corroborating testimony, or 'buddy letters' demanded by the Veteran's Administration as proof that my abuse was condoned and officially encouraged.

Because I began my service as one of the first female line officers, I had no guideposts for behavior outside the UCMJ. Trusting in my fellow officers adherence to their oaths of service, I did file a sexual harassment complaint against the 21st NORAD upon my departure in 1977. The complaint was dismissed, though my charges were not disproved. (See Tailhook)

Even in the most benign environment, (Aerospace Audiovisual Service, Norton AFB, 1979 - 1989, it was routine to be accosted by senior officers and civilians with requests for sex, attempts to grope and fondle, and suggestions of career consequences if I did not comply. Twice, I was forced to physically subdue officers from attacking me in the workplace. They were not amused that I fought back. Female officers were routinely shunted to less demanding and career enhancing positions, with the endorsement of the AAVS commander.

I was then assigned to HQ MAC Scott AFB. I was given few or no duties, not allowed to take part in conferences and meetings, and isolated.

My assignment as Commander, Det 2, 1361 AVS was unremarkable, except that my Commander, Col. Jack Johnson, started each call to me with the question "Are you pregnant yet?" Complaints to his superior officer were not effective. In order to perform my duties, I learned to swallow and submit.

At the time, it was AAVS policy that women officers were barred from command of audiovisual units in Europe.

Instead, I was assigned as Commander Det 2, 1363 AVS, Osan AB Korea, 1985-86. Most of my problems were with younger officers who demanded reproduction of pornographic (and copyrighted) material for inclusion in their routine briefings. This was common at the time. The wing and base commander downplayed or dismissed my position as commander, barring me from attendance at staff meetings attending by all other commanders at Osan AB. After a disastrous fuel tank explosion, which killed 31 people, I refused to turn over my unit's visual documentation of the incident to the people under investigation for liability. My position was validated by the Commander of 8th Army, but I didn't make any friends.

After Korea, I was assigned as the Director of Operations of 1365 AVS, Lackland AFB TX. I was proposed for assignment to CENTCOM in Florida, but was refused because they did not want to have women . It was normal for women officers to be forced to wear Muslim religious garb and follow Saudi religious practices, so CENTCOM refused as many women as possible. This was my second rebuff for assignment to CENTCOM, the first being before I commanded in Korea.

The commander was Lt. Col Jim Council . When I reported for duty, Lt. Col. Council reassigned me as an assistant to the previous DO, whom he had fired. After a year in the position, that officer retired, and I was reluctantly allowed to take my assigned post. Lt. Col Council encouraged the other staff members to exclude me from operations discussions, social events and daily business. At one time, he went so far as to steal all the materials for a Combat Camera Handbook he had ordered me to create. The materials were returned after I proposed going to the Security Police to report a theft from my office. The handbook was adopted by Combat Camera/AAVS, and was still in use when I retired in 1994. I received no credit.

Lt. Col. Council would depart the unit at noon on a regular basis to drink with the other members of his staff at an off base bar, the Fertile Turtle. His secretary and I remained at the unit. This behavior was condoned by HQ AAVS.

When I was selected for promotion to Major, Lt. Col. Council placed a slip of paper with my line number on my desk, without comment, and assembled the rest of the unit to depart for a party. I was not invited.

These instances are merely examples of the daily degradation and abuse Lt. Col. Council inflicted on me over the two and a half years he was my commander. Requests for assistance from Combat Camera/AAVS HQ were met with a deafening silence. My prior accomplishments were publicly ridiculed and downplayed by Lt. Col Council in front of junior officers and enlisted personnel.

I was selected on a by name request to be assigned to Pacific Command HQ, Camp Smith HI, as an International Political Military Affairs officer.

A few months after my arrival, COL. Joseph Stager, USANG, was appointed as my supervisor, even though I was a Regular officer, he was not. COL Stager had been assigned to PACOM because his own Civil Affairs Guard unit would not give him an assignment due to inability to perform. COL. Stager had very little experience with active duty military, most of his expertise being in the civilian advertising world with Proctor & Gamble.

Stager immediately established himself as a martinet, with disturbing tendencies to fly into passionate rages over small incidents. He attempted several times to form an intimate personal relationship with me, including invitations for cruises, dinners, and other activities. COL Stager was married at the time.

My refusal to comply led to him destroying what was left of my career. His supervisor was too distracted in building a Special Ops branch from scratch to provide more than reassurances to me. COL Stager did his best to undercut me with the staff, subordinates and fellow officers. Although I had extensive command post experience, he assigned me to the role of calling the transport busses. He did so in a meeting with my peers, claiming that "lots of command post experience was necessary" before I could be assigned duties commiserate with my rank. Over my protests, he allowed Reserve and Guards forces to display pictures of naked women in provocative poses in the duty area.

He withheld the paperwork for my promotion recommendation until the day it was due in Admin, and refused me time to attempt to complete it myself. I was passed over for Lt. Col.

The general atmosphere of PACOM was such that his actions were not remarkable. I was the only female officer assigned to the J-3 at PACOM. I was unmarried. While I was stationed at PACOM, the Tailhook scandal broke. This scandal occurred because an Admiral's aide complained that junior officers attacked and assaulted her in the hall of the Hilton hotel. After almost a year of investigation, the DoD found that she had no right to deference or respect regardless of her rank, position or seniority. They suggested she needed to get a sense of humor, and female officers were blamed for the slowdown in fraternity style parties with senior officers and civilians in attendance. (See Tailhook attachments)

The concept that an officer had been assaulted was never even considered, reflecting the official position that women were not 'real' officers. This attitude continues today, even though women have been dying in combat for more than a decade. (See Tailhook , Women in Combat attachments)

This decision marked a nightmare time for female officers. We had been declared outsiders, not 'real' officers. We were the target for every man with a sense of resentment against woman. We were not fellow officers. We were to blame.

For example, a public affairs officer who had been admonished for harassment of women was assigned my duties for a classified deployment, including command of my personnel. When they arrived at the secured area, he was deep sea fishing and unable to verify their status. They were detained by military police, and the mission was not visually documented. When I phoned him for an explanation, he called me a prostitute. Upon his return, he was awarded a medal and promoted.

My complaints to his supervisor about him resulted in the downgrade of my end of tour medal by the Deputy J-3, an Air Force brigadier general.

At the same time, General Merrill McPeak, was appointed Chief of Staff of the Air Force by Secretary Cheney. During the 1st Gulf War, he testified before Congress that he would never allow women to fly fighters. (See McPeak attachment)
He also declared that officers serving outside the Air Force proper, that is in Joint, combined, or diplomatic positions would not be considered for promotion. This was the board I met for promotion to Lt. Col.. A second board was ordered, but the damage done to my career and reputation was too much to overcome. I took early retirement as soon as it was offered.

The struggle to maintain an appearance of dignity while also trying to be a role model for younger women was brutal. I was no innocent, but the acceptance of official and routine degradation of women officers, together with the contempt of senior officers of encouraged junior officers to attack with impunity.

The examples cited above only scratch the surface of the daily abasement and humiliation at the hands of my "fellow officers."

There impact have stolen my ability to support myself. Upon leaving the military, I went back to school. While working towards my Master's in Historic Preservation, I became the default curator at the USS Bowfin Submarine Memorial and Museum for a year. My PTSD/MST triggered

when I was refused a raise from $12.00 an hour by the Director, a retired Navy Captain. His rationale was that I was incompetent because I was female. This triggering event reinforced the pattern of defenselessness in the workplace.

I found menial part time work that did not involve interacting with other people. I destroyed or threw away all my uniforms, citations, awards and most records. I still avoid military as much as possible, including depictions of American flags, which I associate with abuse and humiliation.

I was being treated by Tripler US Army Medical Center for symptoms of depression; including panic attacks, inability to function in a work environment and increased retreat from social relationships and normal function behavior.

I left Hawaii in part because of its associations with the military. In New Orleans, I continued treatment at the VA clinic, and was officially diagnosed with PTSD/MST. I thought I had beaten the monster, and found employment as a Main Street Manager, a job I was qualified for by study and experience My working conditions were extremely poor, and the only active member of my Board of Directors was very abusive to me. His abuse closely mirrored the treatment I had been subjected to in the military. After an ambush meeting where I was accused of unfounded allegations, I collapsed mentally and physically.

Because I am part of an older generation, it is hard to communicate the realities of that time. Tailhook is not even a faint memory for most. I read of continuing problems with assault, rape and abuse of female soldiers in the OIF/OEF theatre but at least there is the recognition that there is a problem. In my time, it was all my fault.

Reviewing the application submitted on my behalf by the DAV, it was disconcerting to find that my gynecological records were submitted as evidence of trauma. Abnormal pap smears and cone biopsies have nothing to do with my condition. I could relate a few more stories about the medical system's treatment of women, though. I did force myself to submit a hand-written narrative of a few of incidents that occurred during my period of service, but it was not submitted with my original application.

The refusal of my claim, based on the superficial reading of my evaluations was a further blow. As part of the syndrome, I assumed my claim might be denied, even though my VA therapist tried to reassure me. I have been in this system too long to believe I might be of any worth to the country I served. The board's facile evaluation confirms that I am correct.

As noted in the letter from my C&P evaluator, Helena Costales, M.D., I am unable to function in a working environment. I am reclusive, won't open mail, answer the phone or initiate communication, even with my relatives. I avoid medical care at the VA, and am subject to panic attacks when I do manage to keep appointments.

The attachment are digests of the fallout from Tailhook, remarks to Congress by then Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill, and a quote from then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Three articles analyzing Tailhook from a cultural aspect are included as demonstrating the general attitude of my fellow military officers towards me.
A later article on 'Women in Combat' illustrates the persistence of the institutional denial of equality to women service members.
Together, they prove the pattern of willful discrimination at the highest levels of DoD and the US government that resulted in my severe, chronic, trauma and PTSD.

Damn you all. You've killed me.

Robyn B. Blanpied, Ph.D., Major, USAF (ret.)