WASHINGTON (AP) More than 85,000 veterans were treated last year for injuries or illness stemming from sexual abuse in the military, and 4,000 sought disability benefits, underscoring the staggering long-term impact of a crisis that has roiled the Pentagon and been condemned by President Barack Obama as shameful and disgraceful.
A Department of Veterans Affairs accounting released in response to inquiries from The Associated Press shows a heavy financial and emotional cost involving vets from Iraq, Afghanistan and even back to Vietnam, and lasting long after a victim leaves the service.
Sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment can trigger a variety of health problems, primarily post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While women are more likely to be victims, men made up nearly 40 percent of the patients the VA treated last year for conditions connected to what it calls military sexual trauma.
Ruth Moore of Milbridge, Maine, who was raped twice while serving in the Navy, testifies before the Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2012. More than 85,000 veterans were treated last year for mental health and substance abuse problems connected to military sexual trauma and another 4,000 sought disability compensation, underscoring the staggering, long-term impact of this emerging crisis. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
It took years for Ruth Moore of Milbridge, Maine, to begin getting treatment from a VA counseling center in 2003 16 years after she was raped twice while she was stationed in Europe with the Navy.
She continues to get counseling at least monthly for PTSD linked to the attacks and is also considered fully disabled.
We can t cure me, but we can work on stability in my life and work on issues as they arrive, Moore said.
VA officials stress that any veteran who claims to have suffered military sexual trauma has access to free health care.
It really is the case that a veteran can simply walk through the door, say they ve had this experience, and we will get them hooked up with care. There s no documentation required. They don t need to have reported it at the time, said Dr.
Margret Bell, a member of the VA s military sexual trauma team. The emphasis is really on helping people get the treatment that they need.
However, the hurdles are steeper for those who seek disability compensation too steep for some veterans groups and lawmakers who support legislation designed to make it easier for veterans to get a monthly disability payment.
Right now, the burden of proof is stacked against sexual trauma survivors, said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women s Action Network. Ninety percent of 26,000 cases last year weren t even reported.
So where is that evidence supposed to come from?
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said reducing the incidence of sexual assaults in the military is a top priority. But it s a decades-old problem with no easy fix, as made even more apparent when an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was arrested on sexual battery charges.
We will not stop until we ve seen this scourge, from what is the greatest military in the world, eliminated, Obama said after summoning top Pentagon officials to the White House last week to talk about the problem. Not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be.
The VA says 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men screen positive for military sexual trauma, which the VA defines as any sexual activity where you are involved against your will.
Some report that they were victims of rape, while others say they were groped or subjected to verbal abuse or other forms of sexual harassment.
But not all those veterans seek health care or disability benefits related to the attacks. The 85,000 who sought outpatient care linked to military sexual trauma during the latest fiscal year are among nearly 22 million veterans around the country.
The VA statistics underscore that the problems for victims of sexual abuse do not end when someone leaves the service.
Psychological issues, including PTSD, depression and anxiety, are most common, according to the agency. Victims also can develop substance abuse problems.
Some victims like Moore are so disabled that they are unable to work.
Others need ongoing care at VA outpatient clinics and hospitals.
In the final six months of 2011, an average of 248 veterans per month filed for disability benefits related to sexual trauma. That rose by about a third, to 334 veterans per month in 2012, an increase the VA attributed in part to better screening for the ongoing trauma associated with sexual assault. Of those who filed in 2012, about two-thirds were women and nearly a third were men.
We do a lot more awareness, and as we educate everyone on the potential benefits and that it s OK to come forward, I think you see an increase in reporting, said Edna MacDonald, director of the VA s regional office in Nashville.
To get disability benefits related to sexual trauma, veterans must be diagnosed with a health problem such as PTSD, submit proof that they were assaulted or sexually harassed in a threatening manner and have a VA examiner confirm a link to their health condition.
Many lawmakers and veterans groups support allowing a veteran s statement alone to serve as the proof that an assault or harassment occurred.
An examiner would still have to find there s a link to the health condition diagnosed.
The VA s records indicate that veterans seeking compensation related to military sexual trauma had about a 1 in 2 chance of getting their claim approved last year, up from about 34 percent in June 2011.
The VA does not break out the cost of treating and compensating individual veterans for sexual abuse or trauma. A veterans combination of disabilities are unique to each individual, so it s not able to attribute specific spending levels for individual disabilities.
Benefits depend on the severity of the disability. For example, a veteran with a 50 percent rating and no dependents would get $810 a month.
A veteran with a 100 percent rating and a spouse and child to support would get nearly $3,088 a month.
Moore estimates the government s cost for her disability benefits and treatment could well exceed $500,000 over the course of her lifetime.
It wasn t until June 2011 that the VA began recording monthly disability claims related specifically to military sexual trauma. Veterans file claims for conditions that are a result of the trauma, not for MST itself, which made it particularly difficult to track. The VA came up with a special process for doing so in 2010.
There s no time limit to filing a claim.
We have veterans who call our help line who have been assaulted way back in time. They re still suffering from the effects of World War II or Vietnam. I wish I were exaggerating, said Bhagwati, whose organization advocates for female veterans.
The VA s undersecretary for benefits, Allison Hickey, a 27-year veteran and former Air Force general, has required all workers handling disability claims to undergo sensitivity training in dealing with military sexual trauma.
Hickey also assembled a task force to review the claims process for veterans claiming sexual assault or harassment while serving in the military.
The group looked at 400 claims and determined that nearly a quarter were denied before all the evidence was presented. That led to another training program on the evidence needed or establishing a PTSD claim connected to military sexual trauma. The approval rate is now much closer, though still slightly behind that for other PTSD claims.
Even though the VA s statistics indicate that a greater percentage of military sexual trauma are getting benefits, lawmakers believe more action is required.
If half of them are being denied their claims, that s still a lot of people, said Rep.
Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
Pingree and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., are the lead sponsors of the legislation that would allow the veteran s word to serve as sufficient proof that an assault occurred. The legislation is named after Moore, who spent years fighting for disability benefits.
The VA originally opposed Pingree s bill, saying the legislation didn t allow for the minimal evidence needed to maintain the integrity of the claims process.
But VA spokesman Josh Taylor said Thursday that there s been a change of heart and that the VA no longer opposes the legislation.
VA supports the goals of the legislation, and will continue to work with Congress on the best approach to accomplish it, Taylor said.
An amended version of Pingree s bill passed the House Committee on Veterans Affairs two weeks ago and could go to the full House as early as this week. The bill no longer requires the department to alter its regulations for military sexual trauma claims. Instead, the bill says that it s Congress sense that the VA should update and improve its regulations regarding military sexual trauma.
And until it does, it must meet extensive reporting requirements, which include a monthly report to all veterans who have submitted a claim that would, among other things, detail the number of claims relating to MST that were granted or denied, the three most common reasons for a denial and the average time it took to process a claim.
Supporters are hoping that the reporting requirements prove so cumbersome that the VA agrees to ease the evidentiary burden for the veterans.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a fierce advocate for same-sex couple benefits in the military, was appointed Tuesday as the new chairwoman of the Senate panel overseeing military personnel policy and compensation issues.
Gillibrand, who served on the House Armed Services Committee before she was appointed to the Senate in 2008, was one of the senators pushing hardest for repeal of the old Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that restricted service by homosexuals.
The 46-year-old lawyer also was active in pressing the Defense Department to improve its sexual assault prevention policies, and pushed the Veterans Affairs Department to make it easier for veterans who were raped or sexually assaulted while in the military to receive treatment for post-trauma stress and qualify for disability compensation.
Gillibrand succeeds former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., as head of the Senate Armed Services Committee panel responsible for military and civilian personnel policies, health care, pay and benefits, promotions, deployments and most other career and quality-of-life issues affecting current service members, retirees and their families. Webb did not seek re-election after one six-year term in the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force Reserve colonel, remains ranking minority party member on the personnel subcommittee.
Last week, Gillibrand and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen introduced a military same-sex couple benefits bill named for a New Hampshire Army National Guard member, Chief Warrant Officer Karen “Charlie” Morgan2, who died Feb. 10 of breast cancer. Morgan left a wife, Karen, who is not eligible for survivor benefits as would the surviving spouse of a male soldier.
In a statement issued as she introduced the Charlie Morgan Act, Gillibrand said, “Same-sex partners of military service members should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are. We must ensure that all of our military families who have sacrificed so much have access to the services and treatment they need and deserve.”
Under the Charlie Morgan Act, the VA and Defense Department would have to treat same-sex couples as they do other spouses, as long as the marriage is legal.
Gillibrand also is a co-sponsor of the Ruth Moore Act, a bill introduced Feb. 14 that is named for a Navy veteran who spent 23 years fighting for full disability benefits after allegedly being raped — twice — by the same supervisor while stationed in the Azores.
The chief Senate sponsor of the bill is Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana.
The Ruth Moore Act relaxes evidence requirements for providing that a mental health disability is related to an in-service event, something that would help victims like Moore receive benefits in the absence of an official investigation into the alleged assault.
“Too often, our service members find themselves in the fight of their lives not in combat, but in their own ranks, among their own brothers and sisters in an environment that enables sexual assault, and tangled in red tape to get the help they need,” Gillibrand said in a statement when that bill was introduced. “We need to do everything in our power to end the scourge of sexual violence in the military, and stand up for victims by ensuring nothing ever stands in the way of getting the help and benefits they desperately need.”
The Charlie Morgan Act was referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, where it falls under the jurisdiction of the subcommittee she now leads. The Ruth Moore Act was referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where Tester serves.
Gillibrand also has co-sponsored some significant military-personnel bills. For example, she supported a bill to allow military survivors to receive both military and veterans benefits without offset; another measure that required mental health professionals to be embedded in mobilizing Guard and Reserve units; and one of the most sought bills by military retirees: to provide full concurrent receipt of military and veterans disability benefits for those who have earned both.
Gillibrand has supported allowing military families to use tax-free flexible spending accounts, something authorized in law but never implemented by the Defense Department.
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What do moon houses, sex toys, burritos, guns, fashion, prosthetic limbs, drugs and sweet dispensers have in common? The answer is they have all been in the news at the beginning of 2013, due to the 30 year-old phenomenon of 3D printing.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about 3D printing (if you ignore the mind blowing technology itself) is how little has been written about its likely social impact. Where are the conversations about the ethical issues surrounding areas such as employment, ownership of the technology, and control of output, to name a few?
3D printing has the potential to completely disrupt every aspect of the global manufacturing industry; it raises the possibility of replacing two centuries of mass production with a new localised, personalised approach to making things. This could fundamentally alter global supply chains, relocate millions of jobs, and change the way businesses interact with customers. (Andrew Sissons and Spencer Thompson1)
It is hard to imagine any manufacturing process that will not be influenced by the processes of additive and subtractive manufacturing. Already used extensively in healthcare – the most ubiquitous being prosthetic limbs, orthopaedic implants, and dental implants, while printed organs and drugs are not that far away. In addition to the military – the US currently use the technology in a number of ways including an Expeditionary Lab – Mobile in Afghanistan. Almost any industry you can think of from arms manufacturing, retail, Formula 1, construction, fashion, food, through to the film industry are embracing the possibilities of 3D printing. Make no mistake, the output and the social fallout as a result will be momentous.
But perhaps not everyone reading this will be familiar with 3D printing. A good introduction to the process is Lisa Harouni’s talk at TED in late 2011.
Apart from the fact that this is an easy to understand intro’ to the method of production, what’s fascinating about Harouni’s presentation is how outdated some of the examples she mentions are today. While the process remains the same, since this piece was filmed in November 2011, the number of materials being used has catapulted and with it the ambitions of those that use them. Just 15 months later, the use of additive manufacturing in architecture has gone from a design aid to the advent of the first 3D printed house. You can buy a 3D chocolate printer for your home. Printed ‘meat’ is on the way. 3D printer stores have opened in the US with the expectation that, like the personal computer revolution, these machines will be part of most households in the not too distant future.
I first heard of 3D printing in the 1990s in a tiny piece in Wired magazine. At the time I remember thinking ‘nah, not in my lifetime’. But here we are, less then 30 years later, facing a tidal wave of change.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made:
Those pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
In The Tempest Shakespeare coined the phrase ‘sea-change’ when the sea metamorphosed the corpse of Ferdinand’s father into something else. You’ve got to wonder what he would make of the metamorphosing potential of research aimed at producing such diverse objects as human organs, personalised dildos, print-on-demand guns and yes, bones! A sea-change, rich and strange is here and we’re part of it. You can look at this as being scary or exhilarating or perhaps, like me, a bit of both. There is a danger of feeling overwhelmed, such is the scale of the updates of ‘progress’ in the world of 3D printing that drop into my inbox on a daily basis. Today it’s an article2 telling how Westport Public Library in Connecticut has installed two printers for its visitors:
Reference librarian Margie Freilich-Den said the library helps its patrons with job searches, and the Maker Faire 3D printer was just one step to encourage residents to “get back to our manufacturing roots” and encourage people with ideas to try them out.
Clearly there is a need for a balanced approach to any new technology. Allowed to develop, the potential gains are immense – witness the innovative approach of Westport Library. Or, on a grander scale, imagine the benefits to the environment of eliminating the need to ship products worldwide. Imagine the possibilities for disaster relief (research is underway to come up with a quick, inexpensive method of construction for just that eventuality). Imagine the impact on world hunger of 3D bioprinted food free of disease, produced without animal cruelty. However, if allowed to develop unregulated, the potential dangers are also considerable – imagine printable weapons, uncontrolled genetic engineering, a drug printer nestling beside your chocolate printer in the kitchen. But whose job is it to balance these pros and cons? Who is in control? Presumably each industry will need to engage with aspects within its own remit. Here’s Rob Fraser3, IT director of UK retail giant Sainsbury’s speaking on the disruption coming to retailers from advances in 3D printing:
We have to prepare for the fact that consumers may soon not want to buy pre-packaged iPhone cases off the shelf, but build and design their own…The big challenge is we don’t know what’s coming but we have to prepare for it.
It is difficult to see the big players in any industry ignoring the threats and the possibilities offered by 3D printing now and in the future. If we ignore the media frenzy around the ongoing emotive battle for the right for everyone to print a weapon in the US (yes, really), the issues currently occupying column inches are copyright, intellectual property and patents. In other words who owns what. Perhaps, depressingly, at least in this regard the future won’t look that much different. Those who own the means of production will control the benefits or otherwise to the ‘consumer’. Whether or not the battle for ownership is already lost, we need to ask who will the consumer be? What will their daily life look like? What share of the benefits of the new technology will they enjoy?
I’m not saying that the research into the social impact of additive and subtractive manufacturing isn’t being carried out. I am saying that if it is, it is not happening in the public domain. The worrying part is that it is difficult to ascertain just what is being done on our behalf and by whom. We need to ask those questions and we need to do it now. More importantly, maybe we should be asking ourselves what we can do to create and stimulate the debate. Unfortunately the march of the technology is not going to wait for us to catch up.
By Bill Briggs and Jim Miklaszewski , NBC News Departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta extended Monday a list of benefits — all previously denied by the Pentagon
The Pentagon on Monday unveiled a new list of spouse-like benefits available to the companions of gay and lesbian troops who make an official declaration of their “domestic partnership.”
Under the new rules that will take effect later this year, same-sex partners — regardless of whether they are legally married under state law — can be granted military ID cards, access to commissaries and family programs and other perks and privileges that until now were limited to military spouses.
The Defense Department, however, will not extend Tricare health insurance or with-dependent housing allowance rates to same-sex couples because those benefits are legally restricted to “spouses.”
Pentagon lawyers say extending those benefits is barred under the 1996 federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The department also stopped short of offering several other benefits that are not explicitly prohibited under the DOMA law, but present “complex legal and policy challenges,” according to a senior defense official.
Those include on-base family housing, burial rights for Arlington National and other veterans’ cemeteries, and the extension of command sponsorship to the same-sex partners of troops stationed overseas. Denying command sponsorship makes it difficult for same-sex partners to obtain visas and exercise certain legal rights in foreign countries.
“Our work is not finished,” the senior defense official said. “The military services will continue to review these benefits to determine how best to ensure that all service members are treated equally regardless of sexual orientation.”
One of the reasons that on-base military family housing will remain off-limits to same-sex couples is because there is a shortage of family housing at many installations, making it an especially sensitive issue for many troops.
“The concern was that some troops would say ‘I’m married and now I’m going to be bumped by this other person who is not married,’” said one senior Pentagon attorney who worked on the new policy.
Official estimates suggest the changes will affect about 17,000 same-sex partners across the military community, including about 5,600 domestic partners of active-duty troops, 3,400 from the reserve components and about 8,000 same-sex partners of military retirees, the senior defense official said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the services to develop an implementation plan during the next 60 days and to make the changes no later than Oct. 1.
The list of benefits to be extended includes:
Dependent ID cards offering access to military installations
Joint-duty assignments for same-sex couples who are both in the military
Emergency leave of absence
Space-available travel on military aircraft
On-base child care for children of same-sex couples
Access to youth programs and family center programs
Access to legal assistance and sexual assault counseling programs
Participation in surveys of military families
Commissary and exchange privileges
Access to MWR programs
To accommodate gay troops, the Defense Department has created a new legal document entitled the “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” that will serve as troops’ official designation of their same-sex beneficiary. In it the couple must attest to the fact they are “each other’s sole domestic partner, in a committed relationship and intend to remain so indefinitely.”
The new rules will require gay troops to notify their service if that relationship ends.
The option to declare a domestic partnership will be limited to gay troops. For the rest of the force, legal marriage will be required before the military extends similar benefits for heterosexual romantic partners.
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Pentagon unveils list of same-sex benefits
The Pentagon on Monday unveiled a new list of spouse-like benefits available to the companions of gay and lesbian troops who make an official declaration of their ‘domestic partnership.’
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The Pentagon will soon offer additional military benefits to same-sex couples, marking the first major expansion since the September 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a defense official said.
Those benefits likely will include an array of perks and privileges currently extended to heterosexual spouses, such as access to military bases, commissaries and family services, according to a defense official familiar with the plans. Joint-duty assignments for same-sex, dual-military couples also may be on the list.
But the Pentagon will stop short of offering family housing, health benefits and with-dependents housing allowance rates to same-sex couples. Those benefits are defined by federal law, and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act still prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Military couples married under state laws that permit same-sex marriages will be eligible for the additional benefits.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce the changes possibly later this week, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes have not been formally announced.
The move comes after some gays in uniform said the military’s rules made routine family activities — such as picking up children from an on-base school or dropping by the commissary to shop — difficult or impossible.
For now, the Pentagon’s hands are tied on the question of extending the housing and health benefits to same-sex spouses because of the 1996 DOMA law. But that could change this year, as the Supreme Court is slated to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of that law.
After the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred gays from serving openly in the military, Pentagon officials promised to review military benefits programs to determine which ones might be extended. The planned announcement will be the first major change in military policy since then.
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Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Tracy Dice is mourning the loss of her wife, 29-year-old Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson, one of three soldiers killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on October 1.
You know I love it when you send in your dating profiles and things that have gone on in your dating life. This is a really good one sent in by a reader.