Thousands of Military Sex Assault Victims Got Wrongful Discharges, Report Says
A new report from Human Rights Watch estimates that the Pentagon has issued wrongful discharges to thousands of sexual assault survivors, many of whom claim that despite current military reforms they still don't have a viable recourse to get their records reviewed.
As a result of "improper administrative discharges," the organization says those victims lost their military careers and any benefits that may have accrued from military service.
Human Rights Watch based its report on 270 in-person and telephone interviews, as well as the examination of a number of case documents spanning back to 1966 but focusing mainly on the '90s and '00s that U.S. government agencies produced in response to public record requests.
A video featuring some of the sexual assault victims Human Rights Watch interviewed focused on how their lives have been impacted after becoming separated from the military.
Human Rights Watch alleges that the military is using mental health discharges, such as "Personality Disorder," to easily remove sexual assault survivors from the service.
The organization also says that veterans who continue to suffer harm from these discharges, like the inability to gain employment, have no resource to correct their records.
"Veterans are required to show their discharge papers at virtually every juncture: when seeking employment, applying to school, trying to get health care at the VA, applying for a home loan or housing assistance, even for getting a veteran license plate or a discount at a gym," Human Rights Watch said in the report. "Because the vast majority of veterans are discharged honorably (over 85 percent), a less than honorable discharge is deeply stigmatizing and may result in discrimination, as the services themselves warn departing service members."
The Pentagon says the Human Rights Watch report is based on outdated information, citing policy changes made in February.
"The Human Rights Watch Report is based on information that predates current policy and does not reflect current practices or policies, likewise the statistics they referenced in the report are not reflective of actual relief rates since the new policies have been in effect," Major Ben Sakrisson, Department of Defense spokesman, told ABC News.
The Pentagon argues the Human Rights Watch oversimplified a number of cases and generalized its conclusions.
"In a number of cases where the member was not granted relief, the member was discharged for serious misconduct which occurred prior to the sexual trauma or had substantial misconduct unrelated or unexplained by PTSD or the severity of the misconduct outweighed considerations of victimization," Sakrisson said.
When asked about the report's conclusion that victims' cases aren't being reviewed, Sakrisson said the Deputy Secretary of Defense had issued a directive to all military departments earlier this year that would allow veterans to petition a review of their case even if it had expired under a statute of limitation.
Sara Darehshori, Senior Counsel for the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch, told ABC News that those reforms don't go far enough.
"While we welcome these steps, the instructions include no guidelines with respect to sexual assault cases and do not address the problems associated with discharges that are honorable, but unfairly label a veteran with a personality disorder," Darehshori said. "Our recommendations encourage the Secretary to take additional steps to ensure measures taken to remedy unfair discharges of service members with mental health conditions arising from combat also include those who suffered from trauma after a sexual assault."