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Client Story: 'Honorable' Character of Service for a Veteran and Survivor of Sexual Assault

A veteran sent home with Other than Honorable Discharge, after being sexually assaulted, turned to TLSC for legal assistance that ultimately helped transform her life.

TLSC's Rush Evans and our client Catherine.

My name is Catherine. I was proud to serve in the United State Navy. I was super excited to go in at the end of high school. I was hanging out at the recruiters’ office, where one male recruiter asked me to go hang out and have some drinks. I said okay, and I didn’t think anything of it. I found out later it wasn’t allowed for them to hang out with any recruits outside of the office. We went and played pool, and he got me intoxicated. I was eighteen, underage for drinking. We went to his house where he started kissing me, going too far, I told him I didn’t want to do anything else, but he proceeded to assault me. I was scared – I had already said no.

Afterwards, he said if you tell anybody, I can make sure you don’t go to boot camp. You’ll get kicked out. I was scared of him. He scared me so much, I thought I was going to go to jail.

I did good in the service though. I was a cook on my ship. I started self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was triggered by what had happened with him.

I was not like this before it happened. I kept thinking about the assault. It was in my face every day, and I couldn’t handle it. It changed me. Forever.

I had to take a urine test once. I was scared, because I knew I would pop positive for drugs, so I went AWOL for 28 days. I went back to the ship, where I was punished with restriction.

I had told the ship’s chaplain what had happened to me, and eleven days into my restriction, the chaplain told the ship’s captain of my rape. That’s when I got sent home with an Other than Honorable discharge from the Navy.

I suffered with alcoholism and drug abuse all through my twenties and thirties, got a DWI, and tried to commit suicide. I’ve been sober four years, but it’s still a struggle. It’s a daily thing. I still think about suicide, I have anxiety, but I’m a happy person in general. I just have these feelings that pop up. When I see someone in military uniform, it triggers it all over. Anything military related brings up that assault, and that’s probably gonna happen the rest of my life.

When I got sober, I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous. I met a lady who offered to be my sponsor. I told her what had happened to me, including my Other than Honorable discharge. She said, “I know the perfect person who can help you with getting your discharge upgraded.” She referred me to Rush Evans at TLSC’s veteran program. I told him my story, and he said, “We want to help you, you’ve got a case. I think you deserve an upgrade for what you went through and are still going through.”

I had reported my sexual assault on the ship, but nothing was done. They were just like, “get her out of here,” so Rush said, “You need to go to the VA hospital in Austin and talk to a counselor to see if you have PTSD.” I wanted to know what was wrong with me. I did it. It was painful, but I’m glad I did it.

That’s when I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from Military Sexual Trauma (MST). My trauma happened when I was in the service, so this meant that my PTSD was service related, but my Other than Honorable discharge prevented me from getting any kind of benefits from the VA.

I needed a Character of Service Determination. It was like an upgrade that would make me honorable in the VA’s eyes, so I could get service-connected disability compensation for PTSD from MST. Rush and a TLSC attorney named Julian Honor wrote my Character of Service for me, making a case for my honorable service and proving that my PTSD was service-related. We sent it off, I waited anxiously for a while, and the VA sent me a letter saying that I am now Honorable for purposes of the VA. That’s exactly what the letter said. I cried tears of joy. It made me feel like now the military acknowledged what had happened to me.

I felt proud. I felt like, wow, now I feel like a veteran. I feel proud that I was willing to die for my country, because they didn’t make me feel like that over all these years. It made me feel like an honorable veteran for the first time. They see it now, and they’re acknowledging it.

We’re still waiting to find out how much service-connected compensation I’ll receive, but I have free counseling for the rest of my life with the VA, which I’ve already taken advantage of. After we got that good news from the VA, Rush said now we can work on upgrading my Navy discharge from Other than Honorable to Honorable.

I was drowning myself in alcohol for years from the PTSD from MST. I finally met the right person, Rush, and Julian has been awesome, too.

I feel very lucky. Everybody in my family is super proud of me. Now that I feel good about everything, I’m always gonna say, “Yes, I’m a veteran.” There are so many people over the years I didn’t tell. It always bothered me that I had that Other than Honorable. It bothers me inside my heart because of how I was treated when I got out. Texas Legal Services Center is wonderful, they’ve been super helpful, and made me feel better about myself.

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