When my daughter, Carri Leigh Goodwin, joined the Marine Corps in July 2007, she was a shy, quiet 18-year-old who loved reading and writing poetry. She joined the Marines to make me proud – I’m a former Marine – and to her surprise, she turned out to be good with a gun.
She came home in February 2009 and was a ticking time bomb. The bomb went off after five days, when she died of acute alcohol poisoning on a freezing Ohio night.
Afterward I looked at Carri’s diaries, trying to make sense of what happened. I learned from her writing and from talking to others that she had been raped twice in her short time in the Marines – first by a recruiter and later by a senior Marine who beat, raped and sodomized her after ordering her to report to him after work. After she told the authorities about the second rape, her peers and her supervisor isolated and abused her, adding to her trauma. Her rapist sent her text messages telling her he had given her AIDS.
To cope with her assault and its aftermath, she started to drink heavily. She received treatment for alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and an attempted suicide. But eventually Carri was kicked out of the service with an “under other-than-honorable conditions” discharge for misconduct, including absence without leave, failure to obey orders and reporting for duty under the influence of alcohol.
The military did not prosecute her rapists. Navy investigators said they were unable to substantiate that a sexual assault had occurred in either case. Now, the only justice I can hope for is to restore Carri’s honor and to help other families in the same position.
From 2002 to 2013, more veterans were given “other-than-honorable” discharges than ever before. The rate is five times what it was during World War II, though there is no indication that service members these days are more “dishonorable” than their predecessors. Because of such discharges, more than 125,000 veterans who served since 2001 have been barred from receiving basic veterans’ services, including 33,000 who served in combat.
A fair review process can be the difference between life and death. Other-than-honorable discharges have serious consequences: They mean being denied access to some health care services enjoyed by other veterans, as well as education and employment opportunities. Veterans with such discharges are at much greater risk for suicide, homelessness and imprisonment. An other-than-honorable discharge can also mean being denied burial in a military cemetery.
From 2009 to 2015, 25 percent of service members who left the military after reporting a sexual assault were discharged because of some kind of misconduct. About a third of those discharges were related to alcohol or drug use, which is frequently linked to PTSD.
A five-year disappointment
Under public pressure, the Navy has taken some steps to protect sexual assault survivors who are still in uniform. And recently it looks as if the Navy has started to appreciate the plight of discharged service members, too. On June 1, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that conditions like traumatic brain injury and PTSD would be taken into consideration when the discharge classification of a sailor or Marine accused of misconduct is decided.
Mabus also said that those who previously left the service under similar circumstances may petition to have their discharge reviewed, either through the Navy Discharge Review Board or Board for Correction of Naval Records.
I spent five years trying to get Carri’s discharge changed. Even though the review board acknowledged that Carri had been given a diagnosis of noncombat PTSD, they said her misconduct was the determining factor in her discharge.
I should not have been surprised. According to an analysis by the Urban Justice Center, the military boards approved fewer than one in 10 discharge upgrade requests in 2013. My chances on appeal would have been even worse: The Board for Correction of Naval Records, which would be the final arbiter in my case, granted just 1 percent of other-than-honorable discharge upgrade requests from 2009 to 2012. In 2014, the secretary of defense issued instructions for review boards to favorably consider upgrade requests for veterans with PTSD. This has improved success rates, especially for Vietnam veterans. No mention was made of upgrading discharges for sexual assault survivors like Carri.
I had little hope that my pleas would even be heard on appeal. The boards have been overwhelmed with thousands of cases. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, the Board for Correction of Naval Records held no hearing between 2009 and 2013. Board members typically spent only a few minutes reaching their decisions. They were unlikely to see my application. Their staff would most likely have summarized my papers for them and prepared a decision, which the board members would probably not even have reviewed.
I would like to see Carri’s rapists apologize. I would also like to see her buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But at the very least, I want an acknowledgment from the military that she was the only one who acted honorably in the situation by reporting her assault – not her attackers and not the Navy. I want her honor restored.
The New York Times
Gary Noling served in the United States Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987.