July 24, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House today passed two amendments offered by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (HR 2397), both related to the handling of sexual assault cases. The amendments address the pervasive misuse of ‘personality and adjustment disorder’ as a diagnosis of victims of sexual assault and provide additional funding to train investigators of sexual assault crimes. For the first time, the Department of Defense will identify and correct cases where a service member reported a case of sexual abuse only to be wrongly diagnosed with a personality disorder and discharged.

“This is an encouraging show of bi-partisan agreement,” says Speier. “Mental health diagnoses are rampantly misused to administratively discharge or retaliate against survivors of sexual assault. These dismissals are like scarlet letters, pinned where medals should be. They affect survivors’ lives, their ability to find employment, and to collect benefits. My amendment directs the military to right this wrong.”

“This is a huge step forward for the hundreds of survivors who have contacted us that were wrongly discharged after reporting,” says Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “Many have suffered the pain of a terrible act only to be further humiliated by being dismissed as the source of the problem.”

Misuse of ‘Personality Disorder’ Diagnosis
This amendment provides $65 million to the Department of Defense to review thousands of victims who were potentially discharged wrongfully because of an improper personality or adjustment disorder diagnosis. The amendment directs the Secretary of Defense to correct records of service for those wrongly discharged and provide them with compensation and services they weren’t eligible to receive as a consequence of this error. 

Since 2001, the military has discharged more than 31,000 service members on the grounds of personality disorders.

Investigator Training

This amendment provides an additional $10 million to train investigators on how to properly investigate sexual assault related offenses.

“As any prosecutor or legal expert will tell you, when you have problems with the investigation of a case, you aren’t going to get a fair and accurate decision,” says Speier. “Ensuring that assaults are investigated properly is the first step for holding perpetrators accountable. Criminal investigators want and need more training on conducting sexual assault investigations.”

The Department of Defense released a report by the Inspector General last week outlining failures in the handling of sexual assault cases. Out of 501 investigations, all but 83 had “deficiencies.” Overall, 399 of these cases had interview and post-interview deficiencies. Weaknesses were found in the interview process, collecting evidence, not developing leads, and photographing the scene.