This story is best told in pictures.
Begin by studying the first one. It was taken in 1982. Her name was Mary Kay Theisen. She was twenty-six years old, a U.S. Navy hospital corpswave and urology technician.
The dazed look in her eyes comes from what was happening to her. Her superior officer, “John Doe” (the Navy and VA know his name), was serially raping her, forcing drugs and alcohol on her as part of his assaults, threatening to kill her if she reported him.
The dope and booze were addling her mind when that picture was taken. Her lost expression, however, reflects something else: the signature brain damage of traumatic psychological injury. That Zombie Look—the Thousand Yard Stare—is as diagnostic as a missing limb. It shows that her mind was already gone, pithed by chronic violence and terror.
The trauma changed the physical structure of Mary Kay’s brain as surely as stepping on a land mine might have blown away a leg. As Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and leading PTSD expert puts it, rape re-calibrated Mary Kay’s alarm system. It increased her stress hormone activity. It altered the delicate system that filters relevant from irrelevant information. Ruin those filters, modern neuroscience shows, and you destroy one’s ability to function in the world.
Mary Kay was crippled by the time that picture was taken.
And the part of her brain that communicates her physical embodied feeling of being alive had also been severely damaged. In a sense, then, she was no longer entirely alive. Not as she had been, anyway. “Hurt beyond telling,” one researcher calls that look in her eyes. “Feelings that have no names,” as former Marine Corps officer David J. Morris puts it.
The clinical term for the catastrophe that befell Mary Kay: Military Sexual Trauma.
The wreck of Mary Kay came first from being brutally savaged by the merciless rape culture of the U.S. military. For women, serving in the military is like swimming in a shark tank where every man is a dorsal fin cutting the water’s surface.
Still, it is the decades-long institutional rape by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs that has made Mary Kay’s physical rape so much worse. It’s as though she escaped shark-invested waters to be left bleeding on the beach.
For more than 13 years, the VA has effectively covered up the Military Sexual Trauma that has crippled Mary Kay for four decades now. Practically speaking, that gives the U.S. Navy and the U.S. VA the character of organized gang rapists.
Now examine the second picture.
It was taken in 2016 at Saratoga WarHorse, an equine therapy program in upstate New York for veterans with PTSD. Mary Kay has just had a powerful experience with the mystical energy of that horse. But you can still see the haunted look in her eyes. The gang rapists of culture, and the memory of John Doe, yet stalk her in a way that would make the horse bolt.
Invisible War of the Disappeared Women
Hay una mujer desaparecida, goes the old Holy Near lament about Chilean women “disappeared”—exiled, tortured, raped and executed—by the junta of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Mary Kay is one of the countless “disappeared ones” referred to in the documentary film The Invisible War. The Invisible War describes pandemic rape in the U.S. military. The Invisible War is America’s junta.
Failed American military leadership and ineffectual Congressional oversight cause this junta. As the above documentary shows, rape in the military is simply not prosecuted. A few key points:
- Navy brass winks at sexual assault and even stonewalls its Inspector General’s investigations.
- Commanders in all the branches of service actively cover up rape investigations.
- In 2010, of 3,223 apprehended rapists, only 175 went to jail.
- 40% of homeless female veterans were raped while serving.
- Male rapists rape men, too.
- Rape ruins the lives of men just as it does women
- More men than women get raped in the military, because there are more men.
- In the year reported on about 20,000 men had been raped in the military.
- A Navy study showed about twice the number of rapists in the military than in a comparable civilian population.
- Rapists are serial offenders. They average 300 lifetime victims.
- The military is a breeding ground for rapists. Because the military covers up their crime, they are able to perfect their techniques while serving, then stalk America’s streets after discharge, a clear and present danger of a different kind to national security.
- In 2011, a civilian court dismissed a military rape survivors’ lawsuit, ruling rape is an occupational hazard of military service (thanks to military leadership complicity).
Mary Kay had the misfortune of being a striking young woman. Tall, long-legged, shock of flaming red hair. Doe once ordered her up on the roof of Balboa Navy Hospital in San Diego. His manner made her skin crawl, installed in her the permanent early warning system that psychotherapists call “hyper-vigilance.”
Unfortunately, Mary Kay was pretty.
Caressing her long tresses, Doe asked, “Is your pussy hair the same color.” Terror seized Mary Kay. She was afraid her boss might throw her off the roof if she rebuked him.
In boot camp Mary Kay was singled out with two other pretty young women and ordered to serve cake and punch at an admirals’ reception. A male officer told them that if the admirals demanded sex of them they were to obey.
In Okinawa, Mary Kay’s first foreign duty station, a huge Air Force enlisted man violently slammed her against a wall and sexually assaulted her.
Nevertheless, her determination to be the best U.S. Navy medical professional she could be sustained her for a long time.
In 1976, even after one of her basic training officers had tried to pimp her to admirals, her performance was stellar. When she was 20 years old, barely out of adolescence, she was promoted to head a night shift in the Dependent and Pediatric wards of the Bremerton Navy Hospital, because, according to her performance evaluations, she was “dependable, versatile, and hard working…accurate and punctual… an honest, sincere person who is loyal to friends, co-workers, and superiors. Her appearance is always immaculate and her manner is above reproach.”
She had much older personnel reporting to her. She was entrusted with the keys to the narcotics locker and was responsible for the life and death decision of supervising the proper dosage of patient medication. She performed urinalysis, cultures, semen samples for vasectomy patients, kept perfect lab records, was the preferred technician for catheterizing patients—especially children; kids loved her—the preferred assistant for cystoscopies, performed x-rays and tomography, started IVs for contrast material, assisted surgeons in all manor of minor and major operations, served with trauma teams on 24-hour watch.
Her official U.S. Navy 1976 Bremerton performance evaluation gave her the highest marks across the board. “Professional Performance,” “Military Behavior,” “Military Appearance,” and “Adaptability.”
Item 7 on that form, “Evaluation of Performance,” recorded: “HN Theisen is an intelligent, capable Corpswave. She assumes responsibility and performs effectively, although in many situations she has had minimal experience or instruction. I have complete confidence in her dependability. In a doubtful situation, she asks advice, and never extends beyond the limits of her medical education. However, she is eager to learn and voluntarily seeks further knowledge in the medical field. The entire staff of ward M enjoys working with HN Theisen. She consistently volunteers to help nurses and co-workers in addition to assigned duties. She has a sweet personality and contributes greatly to the general morale of the ward.”
Mary Kay’s official 1980 evaluation at Balboa Naval Hospital San Diego gave her the same glowing score.
Item 7: “HM3 Theisen has been extremely effective in dealing with our patients, Doctors, technicians and students. She is an efficient O.J.T. [on-the-job trainee] with a desire to learn and do a good job. She maintains good working organization and provides service to all hands impartially and competently. She requires very minimum or no supervision at all in her assigned tasks. HM3 Theisen is recommended for re-enlistment and advancement when eligible.”
Item 8: “HM3 Theisen gets along exceptionally with our doctors and technicians. She looks very impressive and wears her Naval uniform with great pride at all times.”
Indeed, the blouse she is wearing in the 1982 photograph was one she had tailor-made in Okinawa. She was still fighting for her Navy medical career, but it was a losing battle.
Self-Medicated Wonder Woman
Mary Kay’s exemplary 1980 evaluations were drug-aided. She had the keys to the drug locker of her life. She self-medicated to control the anxiety and panic attacks she suffered from the Okinawa assault; from the constant fear of rape; and from the constant sexual harassment. (When no one was around one Navy doctor grabbed her, groped her, and plunged his tongue in her mouth.)
In a desperate attempt to keep functioning Mary Kay used cocaine to boost her confidence and blunt her terror, speed for energy and concentration, marijuana, Valium and sometimes alcohol after work to calm her nerves. And magic psilocybin mushrooms to take her worlds away.
She became addicted and succumbed to an emotional roller coaster.
After Okinawa, stationed in San Diego, Mary Kay’s mental health finally collapsed. She attempted suicide and was rushed to the hospital. Cocaine and amphetamines were found in her purse.
Based on VA rules of evidence, Mary Kay’s January-July 1981 performance evaluation records prove that her Military Sexual Trauma destroyed her mental health and ability to function. In the space of a year her “Professional Performance” rating dropped from the highest, “Extremely effective and reliable,” to the lowest, “Inadequate. Needs constant supervision.” Predictably, her adaptability rating followed the same path, plummeting from an A grade, “Gets along exceptionally well. Promotes good morale,” to an F grade, “A misfit.”
Item 7, “Evaluation of Performance:” “HM3 Theisen was unable to rotate through the different areas of the clinic due to the fact that her personal problems and personality conflicts have interfered with her job performance. Her lack of confidence within herself was displayed to staff as well as patients, resulting in her assignment to a non-patient care area. She has also proved to staff her lack of expertise and ability to perform normal functions of a Urology Technician requiring constant supervision. Member is felt at this time not to be a candidate for re-enlistment or retention in the Naval service.”
Item 8, comments justifying Item 7 findings: “1) Member is unable to perform routine tasks of Urology Technicians. 2) Member would frequently argue with superiors. 3) Member during this reporting period has not been able to get along with others. 4) Member is not able to accept professional technical advice from equals or seniors. 5) It was felt that member’s problems came from outside this department with many alternatives offered by this department with no success.”
Again, the VA’s own rules and guidelines essentially make that report an X-ray of the behavioral and hidden tissue damage done to Mary Kay by her Military Sexual Trauma.
Bad as her January-July 1981 performance evaluation report was, however, the worst was yet to come.
Her Superior was Her Rapist
Mary Kay entered drug and alcohol rehabilitation at nearby Miramar Naval Air Station and completed the seven-week program so successfully that they asked her to become a counselor herself. She wanted to return to her medical career.
Doe was waiting for her at the rehab clinic door. He told her he would continue as her recovery supervisor and ordered her to get in his car. He told her to forget what she had just learned in rehab, that she could use drugs and alcohol “in moderation.”
Doe opened his glove compartment, showed Mary Kay a black revolver, and told her he would kill her if she didn’t do as he said. He ordered her to let him rape her and to use drugs and alcohol with him. He drove her directly from rehab to his marijuana dealer and ordered her to smoke marijuana with him in the dealer’s garage. Then he took her to his barracks room, ordered her to drink alcohol with him, and then he raped her. That’s when she completely lost her mind.
She felt like Mia Farrow in the movie Rosemary’s Baby. Devils surrounded her.
Doe’s serial rapes and forced substance abuse began a nightmare for Mary Kay that she’s still living. Drinking in his car once when he drove Mary Kay to his house to rape her, Doe had to pull over so he could vomit beside the road.
Mary Kay was assigned a security job prior to being cleared to return to medical work. Her security boss, also a recovering alcoholic, asked her why she had stopped attending AA meetings. She broke down and told him about Doe. She told him about Doe’s friend, too, a six-foot four-inch, muscular, barrel-chested giant with red hair and a red mustache, a karate black belt, who kept telling Mary Kay, “I want to fuck you, too.”
Her boss ordered her to report Doe. She did, and Doe was tried and convicted. Mary Kay’s security boss reported karate kid, who then got transferred to Guam, one of the Navy’s worst duty assignments.
Her Brain on Military Sexual Trauma
But Mary Kay’s Navy career was over. Trauma had wrecked her mind and destroyed her ability to concentrate and function. She could no longer perform as she had as a 20-year-old to save her life. The Navy and John Doe had used her up. Her injury was actually as physical as a lost limb. You just couldn’t see it. Except in her eyes, and then only if you knew what you were looking for.
Now look at the third picture.
Participants in a PTSD art therapy retreat that Mary Kay attended in 2015 were given Styrofoam heads to portray their inner life of trauma.
(Art therapy functions as a kind of chelation treatment for psychological trauma. It literally scours hidden experiences from the cells and runs them through the brain’s hippocampus where they’re alchemized into mere memories rather than ever-lurking boogey men.)
Mary Kay decorated her head with the pretty mask she always wore to hide her pain. Somehow that flushed out the pain. That’s what the black lightning bolt cutting her face in half represents.
Mary Kay was honorably discharged from the Navy in June 1983, but under an RE-4 reenlistment code, meaning she was an unwanted Misfit.
Her final evaluation noted that she had become “careless about her work and military appearance,” and that she “has shown a careless disregard for her superior officers and a laxity in carrying out orders and has been counseled in her military bearing.”
That put it mildly.
A superior caught Mary Kay walking outside the hospital wearing scrubs—instead of the requisite white blouse and black skirt or slacks—and ordered her to change.
“Fuck you!” said Mary Kay.
“Fuck you,” said the woman who once wore her uniform with such pride that she had her blouses tailor-made (“She looks very impressive and wears her Naval uniform with great pride at all times,” wrote Capt. McCarthy).
“Fuck you!” said the woman who once loved the order of military service and looked forward to a 30-year career, the woman who used to love rendering the courtesy of a snappy salute to officers because it meant she was part of a great team on the noble mission of freedom.
“Fuck you!” she said. That was her brain on Military Sexual Trauma.
The VA’s Continuing Institutional Rape
The VA’s 2016 Military Sexual Trauma Compensation Bulletin cites 10 criteria for establishing disabling Military Sexual Trauma. The facts in Mary Kay’s case satisfy nine of those criteria. The VA’s failure to apply its own rules of evidence to Mary Kay’s case is one reason that her case is a textbook example of the VA’s criminal betrayal of America’s veterans. And criminal is the right word if it’s a crime to violate the law.
The other reason is that Mary Kay’s military experience, and her subsequent experience with the VA, make her a poster veteran for the legions of lost men and women who set out to serve their country only to be caught in the trauma ambush of a mindless, heartless system that blows their sanity to hell.
Mary Kay is Everyveteran.
Her experience epitomizes the cynical refrain of veterans applying for VA benefits:
“First you apply, then they deny, then you die.”
Such cynicism is inevitable. In the powerful 2016 documentary film, Thank You For Your Service, senior military and government leaders form a chorus in denouncing the American military and government for ignoring the ruinous, often-fatal traumatic injury suffered by veterans like Mary Kay. In that film, retired Brig. Gen. Laurie Sutton, Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman from 2007-2011, (RET), former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, U.S, Army Vice Chief of Staff 2008-2012 (RET), retired Army psychiatrist Col. Charles W. Hoge, and Cdr. Mark Russell, Ph.D. (RET), a Navy and Marine veteran, all fault the military for turning its back on those traumatically wounded in the service of their country. “As a Marine,” says Dr./Cdr. Russell, “it made me feel like that was an absolute betrayal.”
That’s really what Mary Kay’s story is about: American service personnel betrayed by their own leaders. Mary Kay’s story is a summary of that betrayal.
Discharged as a “misfit” in 1983, she soon learned just how much of a misfit she was. She returned to school, but the way Military Sexual Trauma had broken her mind prevented her from concentrating and she dropped out. This is a typical PTSD experience. What good is the GI Bill if traumatic injury leaves you ineducable?
Looking for a safe haven, Mary Kay entered into what became a loveless marriage that quickly degenerated into a profoundly unhappy, emotionally abusive ordeal of 29 years. She had three children, repeatedly tried to work, but couldn’t. The stress of dealing with the public triggered her and she repeatedly had to be taken off by ambulance because panic attacks made her think she was dying of a heart attack.
She spent time in Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital psychiatric ward because of near-fatal depression.
Based on the scientific literature and the VA’s later admission (an admission the agency has yet to act on), Mary Kay’s school and work history alone prove that her Military Sexual Trauma permanently disabled her. She is a textbook example of what the VA calls Total and Permanent disability. And she exemplifies the lengths to which the VA goes to cover up this devastating wound.
It is a wound that cripples not only our veterans, it also infects those around them exactly as alcoholism does. Because of this social communicability, PTSD is infectious, note Doctors Richard Rockefeller and Larry Brilliant, two of the world’s leading public health authorities.
The VA also understands this perfectly well. It’s covering it up. Thus, it is an agent of what is likely the deadliest disease facing society.
A paper submitted at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 annual meeting found that “unemployment is the biggest predictor of PTSD symptom severity.”
Mary Kay’s rape left her unemployable.
“Symptoms of PTSD impair one’s ability to function in the workplace and in society and to hold meaningful relationships because of the effect of trauma on the brain and the way one responds to stress and emotional information,” noted Dr. James W. Murrough, a psychiatrist, in his 2014 APA paper.
Please remember this next time you see a forlorn soul begging on a street corner, holding up the ubiquitous cardboard sign: Homeless veteran. Anything helps. God bless.
In 1983, the Navy itself ruled Mary Kay an irredeemably broken “misfit” incapable of performing duties at which she had once excelled. Again, the evidence that her injury resulted from her Military Sexual Trauma satisfies VA rules of evidence, as set forth in its 2016 Military Trauma Compensation Guidelines bulletin.
Mary Kay’s life was so broken by the U.S. Navy and John Doe that they may as well have dumped her in an ally when they got done with her. They killed her spirit, just not her body.
Mary Kay lived in constant fear that John Doe would track her down and make good on his murder threats. Even today her heart leaps into her throat whenever she sees a man who reminds her of Doe. The resulting panic—terrifying memories, racing heart, shortness of breath, doomed feeling—can last a day or more.
She reads male energy the way a Geiger counter reads radioactivity. The beast of rape is everywhere.
Mary Kay took Self- & Home-Defense firearms training. She always kept a Smith & Wesson .38 or a .40 Cal. Glock within reach. The class taught her a magic known to every infantryman: concealment. It also taught her about “center-of-mass” and the way to engage someone who enters your home uninvited.
But the .38 turned out to be a bargain with the devil. She put it in her mouth one day and almost pulled the trigger. It was only thoughts of the cleft pallet surgeries needed by her three-year-old son that kept her from doing it.
Suicidal, depressed and panic-stricken, in desperation Mary Kay sought mental health counseling at the Spokane VA Hospital in 2004. Her counselor diagnosed her with PTSD and advised her to submit a claim for benefits. In October of that year she did.
Now it Was The VA’s Turn to Abuse Her
In July 2005 the VA denied her claim with a letter blaming her problems on her. Mary Kay referred to that response as her “slut letter.” It blamed her Military Sexual Trauma—the rapes, the drugging and murder threats—on her.
In a daze Mary Kay stumbled on with her life for six more years. A demon inside her kept whispering that she should kill herself. She came close many times. Crippling depression drove her back to the VA in 2011 for more mental health counseling.
That’s when Mary Kay’s second VA mental health counselor diagnosed her with PTSD. “You should resubmit your benefits claim,” she told her. The evidence clearly showed that Mary Kay’s Military Sexual Trauma entitled her to a substantial benefits award. Mary Kay dragged her feet. She couldn’t believe the VA would do the right thing. She couldn’t bear being called a slut again.
After more than a year Mary Kay relented and resubmitted her benefits claim. What happened next continues her nightmare. It also epitomizes the endless tragedy that the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is visiting on America’s veterans and their families.
The VA’s Game
When a year went by with no word about her claim Mary Kay’s Veteran Service Officer asked the VA what was going on. The VA had lost her claim. In January 2014 she submitted it again.
Time dragged on. Every day was a fight with depression and thoughts of suicide. She had panic attacks at least three times a week. Sometimes she had them daily.
Finally, on September 18, 2015, the VA admitted that its June 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s original October 2004 benefits application was wrong. The 2005 ruling contained “fatal errors,” said the VA. The VA acknowledged that, “the previous decision was clearly and unmistakably erroneous.” Warming to its mea culpa, the VA elaborated that, “reasonable minds could only conclude that, the previous decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made.”
But the zeal of that confession did not include an explanation of the “fatal” mistake. What was it? And the confessor, as is the case in 99.9% of Mary Kay’s VA correspondence, was anonymous.
And then the kicker. Or rather, Kicker #1. The VA’s mystery judge concluded that Mary Kay was only 50% disabled, not totally disabled as the Navy concluded when it expelled her in 1983, because her mortal psyche could not withstand the brutality to which it had been subjected, because her Military Sexual Trauma had turned her into a “Misfit.” Kicker #2: the VA improperly backdated her benefits payments only to January 2014, the date it finally received her second appeal.
Based on VA regulations, there are actually three violations in the VA’s 11-year late admission of its “fatally flawed” ruling on Mary Kay’s 2004 claim.
First, the VA notes that it is required to backdate benefits payments to the original date of filing. In Mary Kay’s case that would be October 26, 2004.
Second, the VA notes that it is required to backdate benefits to the proven date of disability. If, say, an applicant lost a leg in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon that would be the proven date of disability. In Mary Kay’s case, the proven date of disability is June 17, 1983. That is the date on which the U.S. Navy recorded in her file that, “Member is being released from active duty” for the reason that she had become a “Misfit.” And the reason for that, her military record showed, is that her Military Sexual Trauma had destroyed her mental health and ability to perform her military duties.
Third, the VA notes that in adjudicating claims it is required by federal law to give applicants the benefit of the doubt. The law is CFR 38 Section 4.3.
During the 14-year-long Ground Hog Day in which Mary Kay has filed her many claims for VA benefits she has given the VA permission to review all of her military records. Those records will show that she subjected John Doe to military prosecution for raping, drugging, and threatening to kill her. Doe’s records will show that he was convicted. Mary Kay’s records also document the physical injuries she suffered from her sexual assaults while on active duty. Her records also prove that the psychological injuries caused by her Military Sexual Trauma led her to substance abuse and attempted suicide.
If any of those documents are missing—those of the Doe’s trial, for instance—it can only be because they are among the records that the VA Inspector General found the VA has improperly destroyed. That would make them part of the VA gulag’s history of the disappeared.
But even that doesn’t matter, because of the evidence standards set out by the VA in its 2016 MST Compensation Bulletin.
“VA knows,” stipulates that bulletin, “that events involving sexual trauma are not always officially reported. Therefore, for PTSD claims related to MST VA has relaxed the evidentiary requirements and looks for “markers” (i.e., signs, events, or circumstances) that provide some indication that the traumatic event happened.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Records from law enforcement authorities, rape crisis centers, mental health counseling centers, hospitals, or physicians
- Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Statements from family members, roommates, fellow Service members, clergy members, or counselors
- Requests for transfer to another military duty assignment
- Deterioration in work performance
- Substance abuse
- Episodes of depression, panic attacks, or anxiety without an identifiable cause
- Unexplained economic or social behavioral changes
- Relationship issues, such as divorce
- Sexual dysfunction.”
The only one of those markers missing from Mary Kay’s case is a request for transfer to another duty assignment.
Mary Kay and I
I met Mary Kay on October 31, 2015, at an event called “The Welcome.” It was the public presentation portion of the art therapy retreat that I helped found in Spokane, WA, for military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.
At The Welcome, retreat participants use their art to help tell their stories to members of the public. Citizens come to truly thank them for their service by listening to what happened to them. This helps to shoulder the burdens of the veterans’ trauma. This “communalizing” of their hidden wounds makes traumatized veterans feel a little less alone. Ending their isolation can ease thoughts of suicide and help them find new reasons to live.
I had taken part in The Welcome two years earlier at Pendle Hill, an old Quaker retreat center near Philadelphia. There were 14 participants: seven male combat veterans like me, seven women survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. The women’s stories broke my heart and filled me with rage. “I want to take scalps,” I thought.
I promised myself if I ever had a chance to help a woman with Military Sexual Trauma I would. Mary Kay gave me that chance.
I listened with the rest of The Welcome audience to Mary Kay tell her harrowing story. Like everyone else, I was moved to grief and tears by her account, and courage in sharing it.
The Welcome follows a retreat using art therapy to help traumatized veterans access, and then express, the festering memories of war and rape. This is the art that participants share with the audience as a way of expressing feelings that have no words.
Before being raped, drugged and threatened with murder Mary Kay was known for her bright, positive, optimistic attitude. One of her doctors called her “Sunshine.” “Her attitude toward patients is of kindness and compassion and her relationship with her co-workers is excellent,” reads her 1979 performance evaluation… she has been able to transform a difficult area into an extremely pleasant working space.” Painting these shoes at the PTSD retreat helped Mary Kay remember how she had once been.
As a professional journalist who has passionately researched the PTSD I brought home from Vietnam in order to grasp at the straws of my own sanity and save my own life, I know what psychiatrist Judith Herman says about Mary Kay’s “psychiatric disease.” In her book, Trauma and Recovery, Dr. Herman cites the scientific evidence that “rape trauma syndrome” is basically the same thing as PTSD. Both injuries often ruin the mind in ways that can make normal life impossible. Those of us who carry these invisible traumatic injuries that are common to military service live in a kind of invisible tomb. We’re like the Unknown Soldier “known unto God.”
“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye,” WWI soldier/poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote in Suicide In The Trenches, “sneak home and pray you’ll never know the hell where youth and laughter go.”
Because the VA’s notorious brokenness effectively abandons traumatically injured veterans like Mary Kay, we walking wounded can only stumble forward in a desperate attempt to find our way out of the frightening and dangerous wilderness of PTSD. For many of us, unemployment and financial destitution make that impossible. You see us on street corners holding up our pathetic cardboard signs begging for help. And then you don’t see us anymore…
Manslaughter VA Style
“Prosody of the evidence” is an elegant legal phrase I once heard a lawyer use. I take it to mean a rhythm of facts that resonates with that mysterious tuning fork in the soul where music-as-the-language-of-God is heard; the truth that we shall know and be freed by; the secret chord of actual reality that plucks the heartstrings in a way words can’t.
For me, the VA has tortured the evidence in Mary Kay’s case until it screams. Its prosody clearly convicts the VA of institutional rape—with its confession of making “fatally flawed” errors the VA effectively admits this. When the VA tortures evidence this way and a veteran commits suicide before the VA properly decides on his or her benefits I consider the agency guilty of manslaughter.
For me, the VA has blood on its hands. But please don’t think me self-righteous for saying so. I have blood on my hands, too. I was a door gunner on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam.
The VA’s hit men and women are bureaucratic mercenaries.
For me, the VA’s hit men and women are bureaucratic mercenaries who are willing to accept society’s bounty to deny the holocaust of traumatic injury caused by military service. Again, don’t get me wrong. No bureaucrat ever executed civic indoctrination better than I. While my contemporaries had the moral maturity to protest the Vietnam War, I, son of a WW II Marine who served in the Pacific, volunteered for the draft, volunteered for Vietnam, actually fought to get into combat.
It’s my opinion that denying the hell of traumatic injury is the ultimate crime against humanity, because it is humanity’s crime against itself. It is this crime, I believe, that’s behind the never-ending exposés of VA corruption and incompetence. Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
Because I will carry to my grave the psychological traumatic injury I brought home from Vietnam, I insist on my right to name it: it’s a devastating wound to my ability to trust. This is the nastiest poison there is for any social creature. Loss of trust costs you social connection, but not your life-or-death need for it. It leaves you with a mad longing for and fear of the connection that is life itself.
At the personal level, traumatic injury is as perfect a hell as I can imagine. Socially, the pandemic behavioral harm caused by war is clearly far worse than the Bubonic Plague.
This is a crime of cultural denial, mother of all juntas. We can’t handle the truth! to paraphrase Col. Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. My hunch is that the unfunded liability of psychologically traumatic military injury terrifies the government’s bean counters. How in the world can we afford a military if we have to supply prosthetics to all those who are behaviorally wounded in the service of our country? And how about all of those whom, in their terrible woundedness, the traumatically wounded wound? Figure in those costs and see how war pencils out.
No wonder, at the outset of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, military and government leaders ignored the plea for more robust military behavioral health care referred to in the documentary film, Thank You For Your Service.
Denial, as they say in AA, isn’t just a river in Egypt.
No wonder Dr./Cdr. Mark Russell complained: “As a Marine, it made me feel like that was an absolute betrayal.”
The criminal lengths to which the VA goes to hide from the American people the true cost of military traumatic injuries can be seen in the history of Mary Kay’s applications and appeals for PTSD benefits.
Again, I use the word “criminal” advisedly. The evidence in Mary Kay’s case exposes either criminal negligence or criminal intent on the part of the VA. Mary Kay’s case is a kangaroo court history of selective total blindness, losing records, partial blindness, contradiction, incoherence, evidence tampering, willful total blindness again, followed by interminable delay. The VA’s treatment of Mary Kay entails a willful violation of the law that the VA acknowledges requires it to give Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt. The “prosody of the evidence” shows that the VA denies Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt.
It’s as though the VA is saying, “Yes, we know what a stop sign means. Yes, we see the sign. Yes, we are choosing to run it. Yes, we understand that our actions maim and kill innocent people.”
- October 26, 2004: Mary Kay first applies for PTSD benefits, based on the recommendation of her VA mental health counselor.
- June 12, 2005: VA claims processors override the PTSD diagnosis by Mary Kay’s VA mental health counselor and deny her benefits application.
- Late 2012 or early 2013: Based on the advice of a second VA mental health counselor, Mary Kay appeals her 2005 denial.
- January 2014: After a year of no action, the VA admits it has lost Mary Kay’s appeal.
- January 2014: Mary Kay resubmits her appeal.
- September 18, 2015: VA admits its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s claim was wrong. That ruling contained “fatal errors,” admits the VA, acknowledging that, “the previous decision was clearly and unmistakably erroneous.” This ruling awards Mary Kay 50% PTSD disability because of her Military Sexual Trauma. However, it ignores evidence that it will later acknowledge. Namely, that Mary Kay was left totally and permanently disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma. Also, it improperly backdates her benefits award only to January 27, 2014, the date the agency finally received her appeal. Again, according to VA regulations, the proper award date is either the date she applied for benefits, October 2004, or the proven date of disability onset, June 1983, the date the Navy discharged her as a “Misfit” because of the behavioral injury provably resulting from her Military Sexual Trauma.
- December 17, 2015: Mary Kay appeals the September 18, 2015 benefits award because it ignores evidence of her 100% disability and its onset.
- Undetermined date: Mary Kay’s Military Order of the Purple Heart Veteran Service Officer, John Stine, submits an application for something he calls “Individual Unemployability.” Apparently, this designation would give Mary Kay her full VA PTSD disability benefits while disentangling her from the red tape that had snared her for 11 years.
- April 13, 2016: Mary Kay learns that John Stine, her Veteran Service Officer, has been fired because of improper conduct with women clients. Mary Kay recalls certain comments Stine made to her. Feeling surrounded by devils again, she becomes hysterical in the Spokane Veterans Outreach Center.
- May 18, 2016: Mary Kay emails Seattle VA MST Outreach Coordinator Rochelle Mantanona an advance copy of a letter that she is sending to VA Secretary Robert McDonald requesting his personal assistance. The letter contains conclusive proof of Mary Kay’s Total and Permanent disability from Military Sexual Trauma and the date of its onset.
- May 23, 2016: Dr. Rita Flannigan conducts a Compensation and Pension examination of Mary Kay in the Spokane VA Hospital. Mary Kay gives her the McDonald letter to be entered into evidence.
- May 25, 2016: Mary Kay sends VA Secretary Robert McDonald the detailed evidentiary letter that I helped her write. Again, it details evidence irrefutably conforming to VA guidelines showing that she has been totally disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma since her 1983 discharge from the Navy. “I am writing to you personally,” she explains to Secy. McDonald, “because I am desperate. I have been lost in the VA system for twelve years now…”
- May 25, 2016: In a presumably recorded conversation, Rochelle Montanona of the Seattle VA benefits office interviews Mary Kay by phone as part of her latest benefits appeal, telling her that she is “authorized to take evidence” in her case. Montanona confirms receipt of the McDonald letter and promises to have it included as evidence in her appeal.
- June 13, 2016: VA upgrades Mary Kay’s disability rating to 70%, ignoring evidence of her 100% disability that she has submitted. It backdates her 70% benefits payments only to March 2, 2016, not June 17, 1983, the proven onset date of her service-connected disability. Both the incorrect disability percentage rating and benefit back payment ruling violate CFR 38 Section 4.3, the federal law requiring the VA to grant Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt. (The VA will later effectively admit this violation in its September 5, 2017 ruling on Mary Kay’s appeal.)
- October 3, 2016: Mary Kay writes Secy. McDonald again, appealing for his direct intervention, and files yet another Notice of Disagreement with the VA’s improper rulings on her benefits claims.
- October 14, 2016: With my help, Mary Kay emails the VA’s Helen Morgenstern to make a record of her struggle with the VA. Here’s the full exchange.
Dear Ms. Morgenstern: Just before this email from you arrived yesterday I was in a “Psychoeducational Shame Resilience” class at the Spokane, WA, Veterans Outreach Center, listening to, among other things, “Ann” tell of how she and two of her sisters were raped when they were in the military, and how one of them was chloroformed and dumped unconscious into a dumpster after the assault.
Of course it’s hard for me to hear stories like “Ann’s.” First, because they’re so heartbreaking. Second, because they trigger the memories of my own Naval rapes that are stored in the hundred trillion cells of my body. But hearing these stories is also healing: they let me know that I am not alone; that the depression, panic attacks, inability to function like a “normal” person, and thoughts of suicide that constantly stalk me are normal. Finally—and this is the big thing—I experience the medicine of compassion from my fellow Military Sexual Trauma “survivors.”
That medicine contrasts sharply from the VA’s cold “psychotherapy” and deadening drugs, and from the robocalls I get from the VA “National Veterans Crisis Line.” I’ve had seven VCL calls since Wednesday, 10/12/16, when I emailed VA OCC Management Analyst Stacey (no last name) in connection with my 10/3/16 Notice of Disagreement (Ref. 346MN; File Number: xxxx) regarding my application for PTSD benefits.
The thing about compassion is you really can’t fake it. This is because of something called the “integral membrane protein” in each of our hundred trillion cells. (See Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief.) It’s an on/off switch activated by the body’s own electricity. And it makes each of our cells a little brain. And it’s the organic mechanism of what we call vibes and gut feelings.
I can explain this to you—and why I’m not taking the VCL’s calls, and why I want nothing more to do with VA “mental health counselors” and the sanity-threatening drugs they dispense—only because I have the help of a friend who is a professional journalist. He’s helping me with this letter, as he did with my 5/25/16 letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald (attached) and my 10/3/16 Notice of Disagreement (attached), and as he will continue to help me until the VA finally rules fairly on all the evidence I have submitted of the 100% Total and Permanent Disability caused by my Military Sexual Trauma. My friend was ruled by the VA last year to be 100% disabled by the PTSD resulting from his Vietnam service, and so—to his regret—he knows a lot more about PTSD than he wishes he did. To help with his own PTSD management he studies PTSD passionately, and he tries to help other veterans like me with their PTSD.
My friend helps me understand that my distrust of the VA is also normal, and rational, and reflexive because the integral membrane proteins in my cells recoil from the way the VA has treated me, subjecting me to medicine that violates the Hippocratic Oath and effectively making itself complicit in the crimes that were committed against me by ignoring the evidence of those crimes and how they permanently disabled me. My journalist friend also points out that, as Dr. Judith Herman explains in her book, Trauma and Recovery, Rape Trauma Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are clinically identical. And so, of course, they cause the “psychiatric disease” that causes twice the incidence of suicide of any other mental condition.
Assuming your offer to help me is sincere, Ms. Morgenstern, I ask that you do everything you can to cause my application for PTSD benefits to be fairly and promptly ruled upon. I’ll be deeply grateful for any help you can give me.
Sincerely, Mary Kay McCollum
P.S. As with my other correspondence, this message is being widely copied in order to make a record.
On Oct 13, 2016, at 4:38 PM, Morgenstern, Helen <Helen.Morgenstern@va.gov> wrote:
Hi Ms. McCollum,
The National Veterans Crisis Line is outreaching to you in an effort to offer you emotional support. It has been reported that you are having a difficult time currently and we would like to see how we can assist. I see that you are located in the (redacted) area. We are connected with Suicide Prevention Coordinators in every VA and they help Veteran’s connect to mental health services, locally. You are welcomed to call the SPC’s directly. They can be reached at xxxx.
Please do not hesitate to contact the VCL at 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for Veterans or chat at –http://www.veteranscrisisline.net.
- May 18, 2017: VA letter telling Mary Kay, “Though you feel that you have total and occupational and social impairment due to your PTSD, the medical evidence reviewed does not support this contention.” This letter hits Mary Kay as hard as the VA’s “slut letter” that blamed her Military Sexual Trauma on her. All of the appeals that I have helped her apply since the first letter to former VA Secy. McDonald perfectly satisfy VA criteria showing that she is permanently disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma. In less than three months the VA itself will admit this. But it will go on trying to cover up the government’s true liability to Mary Kay for what John Doe, the U.S. Navy and the VA have done to her.
- May 24, 2017: Mary Kay receives a letter from the VA that says, “Thank you for submitting an application for VA benefits, which we received on May 14, 2015. No further action required at this time.” No explanation was given for why this acknowledgement was two years in coming.
- July 13, 2017: Mary Kay submits to her third Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination. As soon as the examiner greets her Mary Kay has a nervous breakdown. She cries hysterically during the examination. The VA has been burying the crimes against her for 13 years. Every time VA puts her through another hoop like this it triggers memories of her Navy nightmare and the nightmare stories she has heard from other Military Sexual Trauma survivors: brutal, interminable gang rapes that left women bloody and torn, women drugged unconscious and dumped afterward, like murder victims. During the time Mary Kay has fought with the VA the Navy sailed under the banner “A Global Force For Good.” The VA slung such slogans as “Putting Veterans First.” For Mary Kay the VA has become Abu Ghraib.
- September 5, 2017: VA grants Mary Kay “Individual Unemployability” with the same monthly disability payment as a 100% PTSD rating. In bureaucratic jargon that defies lay understanding, the letter cites notes from Mary Kay’s July 13 C&P exam: “… your service connected condition severely effects [sic] potential occupation activities. As you meet the scheduler criteria for consideration of entitlement to individual unemployability, and as we concede, based on your employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability, that it would likely be difficult for you to obtain and maintain gainful employment, entitlement to individual unemployability is granted.” The new benefit payments are backdated to March 16, 2016, not June 13, 1983, as required by benefit-of-the-doubt CFR 38, Section 4.3. The letter goes on to “Note: This rating does not address claims submitted for the effective date and evaluation of your PTSD conditions. These issues will be addressed by the appeals process in a separate decision.” Why, after these 13 long years, those issues weren’t resolved in this ruling the anonymous author didn’t say. What the author did say, however, contradicted earlier VA findings in Mary Kay’s case and distorted the evidence so badly—and so absurdly—as to make a fair ruling in her case impossible. “You claimed PTSD in a statement received on October 26, 2004,” wrote the invisible VA author. “On November 15, 2014, we sent a letter requesting specific details about the personal trauma incident(s) that resulted in PTSD, and sent you a PTSD questionnaire to complete to send back. As of June 21, 2005, the date of the rating decision, we had not received any of the requested information. Therefore, the decision to deny PTSD was based on the evidence of record at the time…” That is why Mary Kay experiences the VA as Abu Ghraib instead of an entity that gives veterans the benefit of the doubt and puts them first. And that is why VA seems like an asylum taken over by lunatics: VA denied her benefits in 2005 because by that time she hadn’t completed and returned a questionnaire VA didn’t send her until 2014, nine years later?
- October 6, 2017: Mary Kay submits two more appeals, yet another Notice of Disagreement and something called a Form 9 Appeal. The gist of these appeals is to point out the factual errors and logical nonsense in the VA’s decisions that are inane at best, sinister at worst. These errors are explained below.
- October 6, 2017: I submit yet another Statement In Support of Claim, my third, for Mary Kay. Using sharp language and exaggerated redundancy, it points out the same stupid or evil mistakes highlighted by Mary Kay’s appeals. The difference is that I express my outrage at the VA for treating a fellow veteran as it has Mary Kay. It, too, is summarized below.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Mary Kay’s October 6, 2017 Notice of Disagreement exposes the briar patch of errors in VA’s rulings. Calling those errors babble would be charitable.
Mary Kay showed how the VA had ignored some 12 thousand words of evidence satisfying VA rules proving that she had been totally disabled by her Military Sexual Trauma since she was raped in the Navy and discharged in 1983 because of the harm it did to her.
Mary Kay showed how the VA’s September 2017 ruling contradicted its September 2015 ruling. In September 2015, the VA admitted its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits was “fatally flawed” and that “reasonable minds could only conclude that the previous decision was fatally flawed at the time it was made.”
In 2017 the VA retracted its 2015 admission by introducing a sinister factual error. It told Mary Kay that in her December 30, 2015 appeal, “you stated that the denial of your PTSD condition in the June 21, 2005 rating was a clear and unmistakable error.” Mary Kay pointed out that she said no such thing. In her December 2015 appeal she noted that just two months before, in September 2015, it was the VA that admitted its 2005 denial was “fatally flawed.”
Its September 2017 ruling is where the VA resorted to elaborate double talk and distorted dates that make no sense. Disinformation, if you will.
Regarding its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits the VA said, “PTSD was denied based on the evidence of record at the time. You claimed PTSD in a statement on October 26, 2004. On November 15, 2014 [10 years later!], we sent you a PTSD questionnaire to complete and send back. As of June 21, 2005, the date of the rating decision [10 years before she could have received and answered the 2014 questionnaire!], we had not received any of the requested information. Therefore, the decision to deny PTSD was based on evidence of record at the time, and is not clearly and unmistakably erroneous.”
Garbage in, garbage out.
First, the VA says that it denied benefits to Mary Kay in 2004 because she didn’t satisfy conditions that were impossible for her to meet—namely, she didn’t answer questions in 2004 that weren’t sent to her until 2014.
Second, it retracts its admission of “fatally flawed” denial of Mary Kay’s benefits based on fatally flawed logic. It compounds this error by asserting that what it had earlier admitted was a fatally flawed decision can be restored to life with another fatally flawed decision.
More profoundly, the VA here argues that its 2005 denial of Mary Kay’s benefits “was based on evidence on record at the time.” That is as wrong as wrong can be.
Evidence on record at the time, which she gave VA permission to review in her original 2004 claim, proved that she was a victim of Military Sexual Trauma, that one of her perpetrators had been convicted of the crime, and that the crime so completely disabled Mary Kay that she could no longer perform her military duties, that the Navy discharged her for that very reason, and that she has never been able to complete her education or support herself since Navy rapes destroyed her mental health.
Mary Kay noted that by tying the simple facts of her case into a Gordian knot used to wrongfully deny her benefits, the VA violates the federal law (CFR 38, Section 4.3) that it acknowledges requires it to give her the benefit of the doubt. Thus, not only is the VA violating that law, it continues to use the smoke screen of fatally flawed reasoning to cover up its crime.
This is the Ponzi scheme of government corruption—cover-ups, and cover-ups of cover-ups, and cover-ups of cover-up cover-ups.
Mary Kay points out in her October 2017 Notice of Disagreement that the VA finally acknowledges her Total and Permanent disability when it writes in its September 2017 award letter, “…and as we concede, based on your employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability, that it would likely be difficult for you to obtain and maintain gainful employment, entitlement to individual unemployability is granted.”
Translation #1: The “employment and education history, and your level of service-connected disability” evidence that the VA ignored in 2005 when it denied Mary Kay benefits, that it 50% ignored in 2015 when it awarded her 50% disability, and that it ignored 30% in June 2016 and May 2017 when it set her disability at 70%, it was finally dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge and put her disability at 100% a little more than three months later in September 2017.
VA still, however, improperly set her back pay, putting it at March 16, 2016, 33 years after the proven onset of her disability.
“First you apply, then they deny, then you die.”
Translation #2: Given what it has finally admitted, there is no way VA can obey its own guidelines and the law and not give Mary Kay the benefit of the doubt and backdate her 100% PTSD disability benefits to 1983. The VA’s fanciest fancy dancing can’t dance out of that.
The facts of Mary Kay’s case put the VA in check.
The VA’s Treason
My October 6, 2017 Statement in Support of Claim for Mary Kay reiterates her Notice of Disagreement. I give voice, however, to the rage and disgust I feel as a citizen and veteran with the VA’s conduct.
For the record, writing this post severely triggered my PTSD. It caused near fatal bouts of depression—the worst I’ve ever experienced—and many sleepless nights, which compromised my ability to work. It sickens me beyond words that VA corruption kills more of our service personnel and veterans than our “enemies.”
Roman crucifixion, one of the cruelest forms of execution, took several hours to several days to kill the convicted. Military Sexual Trauma is a lifelong crucifixion for Mary Kay. The panic attacks that leave her gasping and feeling like she’s having a heart attack actually resemble the agony of crucifixion.
Mary Kay knows fellow Military Sexual Trauma survivors who fight similar feelings.
She knows rape survivors who have eaten themselves into morbid obesity, hiding their allure to potential assailants behind fat. She knows women who smell bad because, for the same reason, they don’t bathe. Women who dress like they’re going to an ugly dress party. Same reason. Women sedated into zombiehood by VA drugs in a vain effort to numb the memory of rape. Women suffering a host of stress mediated illness—intestinal disease, breast and colon cancer, etc.—because of the poisonous emotional residue of rape. Women who can barely control their rage. Women who have to control every tiny detail of their world and their relationships. Women who couldn’t trust anyone to save their souls.
Maybe you know a better word than crucifixion for this state of affairs, but I don’t.
Mary Kay came across this National Geographic photograph in one of her women’s groups. It visualizes what it feels like to her to live with her Navy rape.
Financially, Mary Kay’s MST has cost her around a million dollars in lost lifetime earnings. It’s cost her the 30-year Navy career she planned on. And it cost her the urology technician work that she loved. You can’t put a price tag on her suffering. The way the VA has treated her fills me with despair.
“This is the third Statement In Support of Claim that I have written regarding the matter referenced above,” I begin. “I write it in response to the VA’s 9/5/17 incorrect ruling on Mary Kay McCollum’s application for PTSD benefits. Like its flawed predecessors, the 9/5/17 ruling effectively covers up the crimes of rape, murder threats and coerced drug and alcohol abuse that were committed against Ms. McCollum while she was on active duty in the U.S. Navy. Those crimes left her totally disabled by Military Sexual Trauma. The 9/5/17 ruling contains a critical factual misrepresentation that undermines proper award of Ms. McCollum’s disability benefits.
“Is the incorrect 9/5/17 ruling innocent or intentional? I don’t know. If it’s ‘innocent’ it reflects the VA’s notoriously intractable incompetence that contributes to the needless suffering of America’s veterans and their families. If it’s intentional it amounts to a pattern of treasonous betrayal of the nation’s veterans in which VA personnel are bribed with bonuses to illegally deny veterans their benefits. As a veteran journalist who has reported extensively on public corruption, I infer from the 9/5/17 ruling that VA corruption contributes to the Military Sexual Trauma injury from which Ms. McCollum has now suffered for 34 years. It looks to me as though the evidence in the PTSD case of Mary Kay McCollum is nothing less than a case study in how VA corruption is deadlier to America’s veterans than the ‘enemies’ they were sent to fight.”
And then I write:
“I have no way of knowing if the puzzling errors in VA’s 9/5/17 ruling merely reflect VA’s infamous incompetence as yet another of the agency’s admitted “fatally flawed” mistakes, or if it represents intentional dishonesty meant to continue the cover up of the hideous crimes committed against Ms. McCollum so long ago. Either way it results in the same unjust outcome. It effectively makes the VA an accomplice to the criminal outrages committed against an innocent woman who wanted only to honorably serve her country.
“Given the VA’s long history of scandal and corruption, and given the VA’s shameful mishandling of Ms. McCollum’s case since she first submitted her PTSD benefits application 13 years ago, I am very concerned that the 9/5/17 ruling represents a ploy to continue the wrongful denial of Ms. McCollum’s full benefits.
“If that is the case I hereby request that those responsible for this dishonesty be identified and disciplined appropriately.”
And then I quote from Mary Kay’s August 22, 1976 official performance evaluation that gushes about her intelligence, eagerness, helpfulness, morale-boosting sweetness.
“She was 20 years old at the time,” I reminded the VA.
“Barely out of adolescence, she ran two night wards at Bremerton Naval Hospital and had much older personnel reporting to her,” I reminded the hidden claims processors.
Remember, I harped: “She was entrusted with the keys to the narcotics locker and was responsible for the life and death decision of proper patient medication dosage. She performed urinalysis, cultures, semen samples for vasectomy patients, kept perfect lab records, was the preferred technician for catheterizing patients, performed x-rays and tomography, started IVs for contrast material, assisted surgeons in minor and major operations, served with trauma teams on 24-hour watch.
“She loved her job. She loved her uniform; she wore it with pride. (Check her performance evaluations.) She loved saluting, the courtesy and order of it. She loved the Navy, wanted to make it a career. It gave her a sense of belonging that made her life bigger or better somehow. She was so trusted by the doctors she worked with that they asked her to housesit for them when they were away. Grateful patients and her commanding officer singled her out for commendation. Being a United States Navy corpswave and urology technician gave her a better feeling about herself.
“And then she was sexually assaulted … by a military superior and none of the other superiors who respected her so much—who found her so sweet and eager to learn and trustworthy and such a credit to the Navy and so good for the general morale—were there to help her and she succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction and she attempted suicide and she successfully completed rehabilitation but a sexual predator another superior officer named John Doe lay in wait for her and he pounced on her the moment she set foot outside rehab and he shoved drugs and booze down her throat and threatened to murder her if she didn’t let him repeatedly rape her and she had him court martialed but her sanity collapsed and no one was there to help her—none of those whose morale she had uplifted with her “sweet personality,”—and the Navy discharged her because she wasn’t sweet anymore because she had become a “Misfit”—no good to the Navy anymore. Bad attitude now. Came to work disheveled now. Mouthed off to superiors now. Often didn’t even salute officers anymore.
“Yada, yada, yada. You know all this. It’s been documented for you ad nauseum by now in the multiple appeals that I’ve helped Ms. McCollum (Mary Kay’s last name now) prepare and submit. You just don’t care. It makes no difference to you. Talking to you is like talking to a wall.
“I’ve written for some of the toughest editors at some of the most demanding publications in America—Newsweek, The New York Times, Washington Post. I’ve won some of the nation’s top reporting awards, done forensic reporting that has caused me to get warnings that my life was in danger. I’ve never encountered an audience as obtuse, cowardly, morally crippled, and downright hard hearted and thick headed as the VA.
“What really troubles me about the disgraceful way you have treated Ms. McCollum, and the reprehensible way you go on treating my brother and sister veterans in general, is this: we sign the blank check of our lives in serving our country. That’s the ultimate accountability. In Vietnam I saw men give their lives for others. I saw acts of heroism that should have won the Medal of Honor. But you at the VA have no accountability. You have no sense of honor. In adjudicating claims like Ms. McCollum’s you are as anonymous as the Wizard of Oz. You epitomize quisling character because you allow faceless bureaucrats with nothing to lose to judge men and women who have everything to lose, and whose spouses and children have everything to lose. It’s just not right. Until this imbalance of accountability is corrected the VA will go on failing America. And it will continue being an accomplice in making the phrase ‘Thank you for your service’ empty.
“Is that judgment too harsh? Is it unfair? Prove me wrong by doing two things.
- Have an actual named VA official give me a detailed response to this Statement In Support of Claim and all the appeals I have helped Ms. McCollum prepare since she submitted her 5/25/16 and 10/3/16 letters to former VA Secretary Robert McDonald and the Notices of Disagreement that accompanied them. These responses should include Ms. McCollum’s 2017 Form 9 Appeal and the Notice of Disagreement that this Statement in Support of Claim accompanies.
- Forward this Statement and Ms. McCollum’s appeals to the current VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, and ask him to respond to me personally with a point-by-point response to the evidence I have helped Ms. McCollum present in her application for PTSD benefits…
“I urge great care in responding to this Statement In Support of Claim. It will either reinforce or help bring to an end the rape culture now infecting the U.S. military with such devastating consequences for our military personnel and their loved ones. Because Ms. McCollum has been lost in the VA system for so long, I request a favorable decision on her claim within 30 days. If you do not comply with that request I will file a complaint with the VA Inspector General.”
Little Mary Kay
Mary Kay was three years old when this photo was taken. Contrast the sweetness and trust and hope and innocence in her eyes with the pain in those same eyes later in life, after Doe and the Navy ravaged her. I see in Little Mary Kay’s expression the same perfection I see in my own daughters and granddaughter in family album pictures taken at the same age.
There is nothing on Earth as precious as a little girl. And every little girl is subject to the same murderous rape culture that stole so much from Mary Kay. It is up to all of us to put an end to it. This article is my attempt to do my part. You can easily do your part by sharing this article widely.
Killing Mama Bear
Beyond terrible pain to individuals, the real tragedy of rape culture, and misogyny, and all patriarchal abuse of women is that it can destroy humanity’s best hope: Mama Bear Energy. There is not a human alive whose life is not basically shaped by the presence or absence of Mama Bear. When we tolerate the rape of women we allow an assault on Mama Bear Energy. It’s hard to imagine a more clear and present danger to all of us. Men get raped, too, of course, and it’s not good for us, either. But most rape victims are women. Women are the ones who translate us out of the Mystery into being. And then, if we’re very lucky, Mama Bear sets us on our way knowing in our bones that The Force is with us, that we’re more than equal to the trials of life.
That’s why killing Mama Bear is an assault on the human family. No evil alien could threaten us more.
Who Does VA Serve? The “Mary Kay Test”
One reason Mary Kay’s story interests me so much is the sleeping giant of a question hiding within: can we handle the truth about PTSD? Namely, that it is a hideous injury, the healing from which carries a big price tag. Really big. Maybe bigger than getting chlorine pollution out of the great lakes. Or mercury out of the sea.
In my second Statement In Support of Claim in Mary Kay’s case, I wrote the VA:
“Rough calculations included in Mary Kay’s appeal suggest that the mental disability caused by her Military Sexual Trauma has so far cost her around a million dollars in lost lifetime earnings. God only knows what her Military Sexual Trauma cost her in misery, lost quality of life, and the pain and suffering she passed on to her family. You can’t put a price tag on that…”
But VA can obey the laws it cites and properly calculate Mary Kay’s benefits using the evidence to which VA has admitted. VA can decide her case by ethically following its own guidelines.
Kaching! Can you hear the cash register? You can bet VA and Congress do.
Congress has taken testimony on this. “Such cynical cost-saving measures are devastating to soldiers and the lives of their families,” Penny Coleman testified in 2007. She is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who committed suicide, and author of the devastating book, Flashback, about the devastating truth that humanity is covering up the reality of what rape and war and trauma do to us.
Dr. Jonathan Shay, one of the most distinguished psychiatrists ever to serve at the VA, author of the seminal Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in American, faults the VA for its bureaucratic indifference to the suffering it causes veterans like Mary Kay. He says his boss at the Boston VA once chastised him for saying he worked for the veterans. “You work for the VA,” she corrected him.
“I never in the 20-and-a-half years I worked for the VA took on the VA, which is why they probably left me alone,” Dr. Shay told an audience at Columbia University. Thirty-four minutes into the talk, he says, “I know that I would have been out the door on my can, probably quicker than I could blink, if I directly took on VA policy, practice and culture the way I have taken on Dept. of Defense policy, practice and culture. Go figure. But the fact is the VA, I don’t think, really cared.”
The VA doesn’t care. This from the former VA psychiatrist who was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for his distinguished PTSD work.
Face the facts in Mary Kay’s case and give her the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out. No way out of entering by the narrow gate.
The facts in Mary Kay’s case lead humanity to the road less traveled, the intriguing/terrifying path to things kept hidden since the foundation of the world. Follow the facts, give our veterans and their families the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out.
That could be the code, the mantra, for the “The Mary Kay Test” for veterans’ traumatic injuries.
Give them the benefit of the doubt, there’s no way out.
But why should we fear the truth? Could it be because it’ll show us something about ourselves that we’re afraid to hope for?
“In the PTSD disability matter of Mary Kay McCollum you will do God’s or the Devil’s bidding,” I also wrote to the VA. “God is watching. So am I for as long as I have eyes to watch.”
VA Inspector General Complaint
This article is being submitted to the VA Inspector General as a formal complaint. Go to VA Hotline if you want to join me in holding VA accountable, you can submit this article as a complaint, too.
Check back with this blog site for more as this story develops.