• November 24, 2014

Combat veterans discuss lingering repercussions of Iraq War

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Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 4:30 am

Rebekah Lampman may have left the Army a month ago, but the impacts of her nearly eight years of service are still very much a part of her life.

She served two tours in Iraq with III Corps’ Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion as a broadcast journalist.

“I did a lot of humanitarian work. I definitely feel good about going out and doing stories about school supplies and clean water,” she said. “I was seeing the human side of Iraq and the war.”

When Lampman returned from her second deployment in 2010, she began seeking treatment for combat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I was working through those (issues) and I still had a desire to stay in,” she said.

Then on Dec. 9, 2011, Lampman, a sergeant at the time, was raped in the barracks by a soldier in her battalion. She immediately reported the rape and went to the emergency room and underwent a sexual assault examination. Aside from a no-contact order, nothing happened, she said.

“By the time I got back to my unit from the ER about 85 percent of my unit already knew I was raped,” Lampman said. “I didn’t know from there it would get worse.”

About a month later, with her attacker still living in the barracks, her first sergeant took her into a meeting and called her “an incompetent NCO and told me he wasn’t sympathetic or empathic and I should soldier on.”

She began drinking heavily and isolating herself in her room. She self-mutilated and instead of getting support from her unit, she said she was punished. She said she was also told the rape was her fault and she could have stopped it from happening.

After eight months of living in the same building as her attacker, Lampman was eventually taken into an in-patient treatment program for female trauma victims at the Temple Veterans Affairs hospital. During her stay, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki happened to visit the program and asked to hear her story.

Within three days, Lampman’s attacker was removed from the barracks and later found guilty in a court-martial.

“I’m not a victim anymore, I’m a survivor,” Lampman said.

Moving on

Lampman was eventually moved to Fort Hood’s Warrior Transition Brigade and medically retired from service this year. The 26-year-old now works at an emergency veterinarian clinic in Virginia.

Her story was just one of many shared during a people’s hearing in Washington, D.C. last week as part of a political push from the Right to Heal campaign, comprised of various organizations including Iraq Veterans Against the War.

The hearing, moderated by Phil Donahue, focused on the impacts of the Iraq war and the wounds veterans are still recovering from, both physical and emotional.

Other speakers included Iraqis who spoke of birth defects and health problems from depleted uranium pollution. Americans who study the number of Iraqi civilian casualties, and other veterans.

The effects of war

Matt Howard, communications director for the veterans organization, said Lampman’s story was important to the hearing because sexual assault spiked during the war.

“We recognize if we talk about the harms of the Iraq war, we need to include the whole scope,” Howard said. “Yes, she did ... have some resolution, but it took the secretary of the VA to make that happen. How often is it that service members impacted ... have an opportunity to talk to the (VA) secretary firsthand? It really almost crystallized how bureaucratic (the system is) and how the onus is on the survivor to prove what happened to them.”

The military estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were the targets of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, but only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported to military officials. The Defense Department also boasts a 51 percent increase in reporting, and credits more trust in leadership.

“These crimes have been perpetrated by all ranks from very senior officers to young privates. These crimes destroy the lives of individuals, degrade the readiness of our force for war and threaten the very core of our institution and the Army profession,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno on Friday as he kicked off April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

He went on to say the Uniform Code of Military Justice is the best tool possible to prosecute offenders and protect survivors, because it allows commanders to take actions beyond those of a civilian court.

Fort Hood’s view

Fort Hood officials were unable to speak directly to Lampman’s story, but provided the procedure for protecting victims of sexual assault. Based on law passed Dec. 16, 2011, current Army policy provides that victims are notified they may request to be transferred from their units or installations. A commander must grant such a request within 72 hours or forward to a general officer. There is a presumption in favor of transfer, and no authority lower than a general officer may deny a transfer request. Even a general officer only has 72 hours to respond. Commanders may also transfer alleged offenders, enforce protective orders and take other reasonable precautions to protect individuals. Victims have access to victim advocates and special victim counsel, who can explain these options and advocate on their behalf, according to Fort Hood officials.

Lampman said it wasn’t easy to share her story, but it was important to her. “I think letting people be aware that it still exists, but also to let victims suffering in silence know that their voices are being heard and, above all, (it’s) not their fault that it happened,” she said. “Victims feel like it’s their fault and it’s completely not their fault.” She added: “That’s what needs to change. Victims shouldn’t be afraid to come forward.” Instead, perpetrators should be afraid of committing sexual assault, because of the consequences and zero tolerance.

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