September 10, 2014, New York, N.Y. – “I had actually let the assault go, because I didn’t want it to interfere with my career,” Kole Welsh (Army, 2002-07) tells GQ’s Nathaniel Penn. “I wanted to be an officer, and I just said, ‘Bad experience, won’t happen again.’ But there was some residual damage. A month and a half later, I was brought into a room with about nine officers and told, ‘You’ve tested positive [for HIV].’ I was removed from the military and signed out within a day. It was a complete shock.”
Penn speaks with military officials, mental-health professionals, and policymakers, including Senator Kristen Gillibrand, as well as with twenty-three survivors, and he reports on the systematic failures, from both inside the military hierarchy and a bumbling, ill-equipped Veterans Affairs system.
“If they want you to be a schizophrenic, you’re schizophrenic” says Trent Smith, an MST survivor currently fighting his discharge from the Air Force. Penn reports that diagnosis of mental-health disorders are common, not only to rid the ranks of the victims but as a tactic to spare the VA the costs of aftercare, since personality disorders are considered a pre-existing condition and therefore not eligible to have the cost of care covered.
“The discharge for personality disorder – that’s a problem,” admits Dana Chipman, a judge advocate general who served in the Army from 2009 to 2013. “If you’ve talked to twenty different victims and twelve of them say, ‘I was discharged for personality disorder and I was railroaded,’ I would not deny that in many cases personality discharge would have been issued. It’s not right.”
“As a man, I can’t perform the way I used to. I just feel damaged. All I remember, along with the pain, is the slapping sound of being raped,” says Steve Stovey, who formerly served in the Navy and has not been able to seek treatment covered by the VA. “I got a PTSD diagnosis from my doctor. I’ve written down my testimony, filled out the paperwork, sent it in, and got denied. It just feels like another betrayal.”
Thirty-eight Military Men are Sexually Assaulted Every Single Day, According to the Pentagon.
Senator Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been a leading voice pushing for reform. “Under the current system, justice isn’t possible, because there’s too much bias,” she tells Penn. “It’s too toxic for nine out of ten victims to report; of the one in ten who did report, 62 percent were retaliated against.”
The September issue of GQ is on newsstands now. Check out the full story and photos on GQ.com.