Bianca Cruz’s Navy career started with a job she loved on a ship in Japan, but after she was sexually assaulted by a sailor, her military life spiraled downward, ending with a “bad paper” discharge after serving 20 months.
“If it weren’t for the sexual assault, I would still be in Japan,” said Cruz, 22, a Navy hospital corpsman, who returned home in November 2015.
Cruz is among the thousands of sexual assault victims who have been pushed out of the military with a less than honorable discharge, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in May, Booted: Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors.
The Navy diagnosed Cruz with a “personality disorder,” which the Rights Watch report said the military regularly uses to trigger quick dismissals of sexual assault victims.
Cruz is appealing to the Navy Discharge Review Board, requesting that her discharge status be upgraded from general (under honorable conditions) to honorable.
Her current discharge status prevents her from receiving G.I. education benefits and re-enlisting in the military. It also carries a stigma that can affect employment. It does provide her with medical benefits and entitles her to a veteran’s burial.
Margaret Kuzma, an attorney with the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, which is representing Cruz, said, “A discharge upgrade will remedy all these injustices.”
An upgrade to an honorable discharge would also remove the characterization on her discharge papers that states “condition, not a disability,” which refers to personality disorder, Kuzma said.
“I want it to be fixed. I don’t deserve it,” Cruz said of her discharge status in a recent interview.
For some, the effects of less than honorable discharges are often “far-reaching for veterans … impacting employment, child custody, health care, disability payments, burial rights—virtually all aspects of life,” the Rights Watch report said.
Cruz was transferred to Beaufort, South Carolina, after her assault so she could get away from her attacker. Under stress, she attempted suicide while there.
She was discharged after being accused of labeling a medical cart with the wrong code, which was cited as a lack of attention to detail.
She denied the allegation and asked for a court martial but was turned down.
When Cruz returned home she received medical treatment at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System’s West Haven campus. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that was attributed to her sexual assault. The VA did not diagnose her with a personality disorder, which the military considers a pre-existing condition not eligible for disability benefits.
Kuzma said Cruz’s behavior in South Carolina was a result of her “…struggle with the undiagnosed PTSD symptoms from the assault.” Kuzma said a military diagnosis of a personality disorder “is always a red flag.” She said the legal center has never seen a case where the diagnosis was later confirmed by another doctor.
Margaret Middleton, the law center’s executive director, said, “People are being sexually assaulted in the military and then kicked out because of behavioral problems and manifestations of the sexual assault. That’s horribly unfair.”
Middleton said she is grateful to Cruz for her willingness “to speak about it because that’s the hardest part.”
Cruz grew up in East Haven and lives in Hamden with her husband, William, a Navy veteran; their infant son, Matthew; and a trained service dog that helps her deal with her PTSD. Her dog accompanies her to her job at a VA call center in Newington.
Cruz has applied to the University of New Haven to study forensic science and hopes to get educational financial assistance under the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, which placed her in her job. She isn’t eligible for GI education assistance, which “is a much richer benefit,” Kuzma said.
Cruz was one of some 20,000 sexual assault victims in the military in 2014, according to Pentagon estimates. She said her attacker told Navy investigators that he was too drunk when he was with her to recall whether a sexual assault occurred. He was not punished.
Since 2013, U. S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been unsuccessfully urging Congress to give the decision of prosecuting military sexual trauma cases to independent military prosecutors instead of commanders.
The advocacy group Protect Our Defenders recently released a study stating that Pentagon officials misled Congress in testimony about effectiveness of the commanders’ role.
The Rights Watch report recommends that the military give special consideration to requests for discharge upgrades from sexual assault victims with PTSD. It notes that PTSD is significantly more prevalent among sexual trauma victims than combat veterans, with about one in three sexual assault survivors suffering from PTSD compared to 10 percent to 18 percent of combat veterans.
Kuzma said it is important to seek discharge status upgrades from military review boards even though the odds are daunting. “Attorneys can slowly force them to confront the reality that veterans are being improperly discharged and those discharges affect them for the rest of their lives,” she said.
“It’s advocacy 101. If you don’t bring these cases because you think you’re going to lose, then nothing ever changes,” she said.
I want some more information on this.. I myself have had a similar situation…. Hopefully I can have things changed… The PTSD is real and relevant and I’m struggling with my life, my career, family, everything… Thank you for your time and consideration…
Hang in there Pamela. We are with you in the shadows..you are NOT ALONE. Reach out to the VA, meet with other veterans..you will find peace in these meetings. Stay strong 🙂
Pamela, find me on Facebook or shoot me an email and I can give you more information. You’re not alone. We’re all survivors.
Send me a message. I can give you more info. Hang in there sister!
If you are a veteran, the Military Sexual Trauma coordinator at VA Connecticut can be reached at 203-932-5711, ext. 2722. You can also contact one of the Vet Centers (Danbury, Rocky Hill, Orange or Norwich) for assistance. Vet Center phone numbers are available at http://www.connecticut.va.gov/locations/other_facilities.asp
We sure are! If you get VA Service Connected, it’ll change your life. At lease go talk to your county veterans service officer or VSO and ask to file an MST Claim. If they don’t know what that means, don’t say another word and RUN. I’m on FB as well so ladies feel free to friend me just pm me so I know to accept you. ????Kate
Ms Cruz- Ayuda porfa same story sane discharge. Pls help?
This will be the longest POST you will ever read in your life, but it will help. Army screwed me worse than this. I was raped in 2004. I served 1 year 8 months 24 days. I was in a combat zone, Balad, Iraq. If you think your command is going to help you or do you an favors think again. First thing is yes petition your board for your particular service. Army is the Army board. Ask for your personal file. If you were raped and actually had the courage to file a Un-restricted report then it should be in your personal file. Witness statements taken either AGAINST you OR for you should be in there; your rape kit documents; the log of personal evidence the Military investigators are suppose to be in there as well. Each branch of the military has a separate med base where they keep medical files; for the Army it is in Texas for the Navy I am not sure you have to call around and ask. The investigative reports are going to be keep at the Crime Records Center which is located with all the other dummies in Quantico, VA…USA CIDC is there you see. Sorry, I have little respect for them because they are the dumbest fools I have ever seen in my life; you will see what I mean in a minute. You need those Reports of Investigations to prove “inconsistency’s” within the agents work who was assigned to your case. You will also need their name to find if they have had ever evidence threw out due to violating a defendants rights. If you are a “victims” but you like this young lady are pushed out; you have now become the “offender” or the “defendant”…don’t let them lie to you. It a word game, that the Military is very good at. So, you have all this “stuff”; I wrote my 1st challenge to USA CIDC in 2010 because they charged me with a crime when I reported my rape. They came back with (paraphrased) “Sorry, we are going to take back this arrest, and take this one charge out of our database.” So, I WON! Round 1 to me..I even got a BONUS, the law in writing that said they knew at the time they charged me with me it was against the law…Yes, I am not joking. I saved the internal memo….DD214…So, I got a General under Honorable Conditional discharge REASON Misconduct based on the False Charge that was ILLEGAL. BOOM. So, the Board gave me in 2005 Fully Honorable changed the REASON to Secretarial Authority. BUT…My problems were not over. If you think the Department of Veterans Affairs is going to bend over and welcome you with open arms and say, “Come here darling, we want to help you and take care of all your medical problems because we care for our female veterans”, THINK AGAIN. They are going to tell you that you you did not serve 24 months therefor you are not a veteran. You have to get service connection FIRST. That is why you need all that other crap first. If you do not prove NEGLIGENCE by the Navy, Army, ETC. the VA will throw you to the dogs. They do not care…and you can not make them care. To them you are a minority veteran and just like to the Department of Defense “expandable”. They just don’t care. You might say but I have injuries from my sexual assault and my discharge was upgraded. Yes, I tried to tell them that as well. I had enhanced coverage because of being in Balad…I had 5 years of free healthcare. In that 5 years I was diagnosed with TBI due to sexual assault; complex partial seizures; went to OKC VA Medical Center getting ready to do the last EEG for them to pin-point the exact location of the seizures which they thought which was in my temporal lobe for surgery to remove that part of my brain and I get a call, Sorry you aint a veteran no more, we cant help you; we are canceling all your appointments..see ya..” Then I got bills, and letters which I saved. When the VA FINALLY realized their mistake I went without healthcare for 2 years 3 months. When I told them my discharge was upgraded and lawyers said it was AS I had served my 3 years they said “CID Agents said you were never raped, so we can’t treat you.” See why I said they were stupid fools? Prove this misconduct FIRST; save yourself heartache…if you take an upgraded discharge to the VA they will screw you. I have a “Note” on my Facebook page called “How to Destroy the Credibility of a Rape Investigation Within the Department of Defense”. It is the step by step process of how I used the Department of Defense own regulations against them, the Army, and CID Regulations and the National Guards Regulations to find irregularities in my own investigation and get some sort of twisted justice. I am still not over it; and have taken my last bit of fight, what little fight I have left in me to the Federal Court System. If I win it would be a miracle since no rape victim has ever won yet. If you need anything or have any questions please contact me on Facebook. Sincerely, Christina D. Thundathil
There is a dd-215 that is a changed discharge. Please get hooked up with a women’s vet group or legal help to fight for it. Where are you located?
My daughter was discharged with a OTH from the Marines because she was raped while in Japan and had PTSD so bad. She came home and was only given treatment for the PTSD and NO other benefits! She also had a lawyer that tried to get her medical records for a year and the US govenment couldn’t find them or so they said! The lawyer was going to go ahead and file the upgrade and a few months before it was to happen the VA gave her a months supply of pills and she overdosed and died! They dropped everything and told us there was nothing they could do for us! She left behind a wonderful son!
Thank you for those Contacts
Thank you for your post. Working on my discharge upgrade currently
Omg im so sorry for your loss! My condolences ma’am. This is why I always check in on my brothers and sisters see how their doing, get them help if needed.
Keeping fighting to right this matter
Bianca Cruz Sister Sailor Proud of your Courageous voice. Stay in the fight for your benefitso. You served and you deserve support and transitionalServices.
Ladies, I’m happy to report that after two long years of patiently waiting for my discharge review to be considered, it just landed on their desk along with all my documentation, and I will hear a decision by the beginning of 2018. After speaking to a naval officer on the board, it looks very promising for an upgrade, as MST survivors are given special consideration as well as vets diagnosed with PTSD. Thank you for your supportive and uplifting comments.
I manage a program called the VTSC (Veterans Training Support Center) out in WA State. I’d like to work with you… Can we chat?
P.S. I’m also a veteran– Navy 12 years.
yes i too have been told i suffer from ptsd with the stresser benig mst how ever althought the Va said that i suffer from it no one will help i did put in for up grade lets see my name is tim jones and i too recived oth dischagre after telling drill sergent what happen and he did nothing so out of fear i ran only to return with shame and fear to be told i could not adapt to being away from home but i would recive good paper dicharge but what happen is i sufferd for over 20yrs homeless lost confused if you could offer any help with lawer i would love it god bless and stay strong