Veterans Clinic Sues Military for Sexual Assault Records
On December 13, 2017, Protect Our Defenders and the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, filed suit in U.S. District Court to compel the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release records related to gender disparities within the military justice system and the military record correction boards’ handling of cases involving sexual assault and harassment. The lawsuit was filed by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. Discrimination against female service members is widespread: women are dramatically underrepresented within the military and experience disproportionate rates of sexual harassment, assault, and rape (collectively known as “military sexual trauma” or “MST”), according to the clinic.
Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, said, “I welcome this legal action today and hope that this suit, combined with legislative action will begin to break down the unacceptable barriers to justice too many victims face. Survivors of military sexual assault are owed justice and openness in discharge proceedings. Instead, far too many are re-victimized by dishonorable discharges that bar them from receiving the services and recognition they need and deserve. That is why I authored amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that was recently signed into law to assist survivors by providing badly needed transparency to this critical process.”
“The military has resisted efforts to end the epidemic of sexual assault and retaliation within its ranks, despite years of Congressional attention and reform,” said Col. Don Christensen (Ret.), President of Protect Our Defenders. “Service members, members of Congress, and the public deserve to know if the military unlawfully discriminates against female service members and survivors of sexual assault.”
Service members who have experienced MST are at increased risk of involvement with the military justice system, and individuals who report MST experience high rates of retaliation that can end their careers, according to the clinic.
“Too many of our clients have been forced out of the military for experiencing military sexual trauma but have been denied an upgrade of their discharge status and the critical federal and state benefits that their service merits,” said Margaret Middleton, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. “In the interest of justice, the military must answer for its treatment of veterans struggling with the debilitating effects of military sexual trauma.”
The lawsuit asks the court to compel the DOD and DHS to conduct a reasonable search and immediately produce the wrongfully withheld records as required by the Freedom of Information Act.
Protect Our Defenders is the only national organization solely dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military and to combating a culture of pervasive misogyny, sexual harassment, and retribution against victims. It seeks to honor, support, and give voice to survivors, and seeks reform to ensure all survivors and service members are provided a safe, respectful work environment and have access to a fair, impartially administered system of justice.
The mission of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center is to help veterans who have experienced homelessness and mental illnesses overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare, and income. As the first VA medical-legal partnership in the country, CVLC co-locates with VA medical centers to provide legal services to its clients.
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic was founded in 2010 to train law students and to serve the legal needs of veterans. Under the supervision of clinical professors, clinic students engage in litigation before administrative agencies and courts on a range of matters.