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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014
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VA could do more, rape victim to testify

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A Navy veteran who was raped while in the service is scheduled to testify before Congress today that the VA is not doing enough to set up programs geared for male victims of military sexual trauma.

In his testimony, Brian Lewis said there are not enough programs for men and those existing, including a residential treatment program at Bay Pines, are inadequate, according to a copy of his planned testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, that he provided to the Tribune.

Lewis served in the Navy from 1997 until 2001. A petty officer 3rd class, he was raped by another sailor while in Guam in 2000 and, after being diagnosed with a "personality disorder," he said he was given a general discharge. He later received a 100 percent disability compensation rating from the VA as a result of the rape. He will testify that of the 12 VA programs designed specifically for victims of sexual trauma, "only one accepts male patients. That facility, the Center for Sexual Trauma Services at ... Bay Pines, is coeducational. Put simply, male survivors have no single-gender residential program designed specifically for survivors of military sexual trauma."

A study published last year in Traumatology found that military sexual trauma is reported in "approximately 20 percent to 43 percent of female service members and veterans, and 1 percent to 3 percent of male service members and veterans. These rates reflect thousands of individual cases."

Lewis, 33, said he attended the Bay Pines program in June 2009, and will testify that having women in the same residential program as male rape victims was a problem for him.

"This presented many barriers to effective treatment in that program," the testimony states. "I witnessed men and women engaging in romantic liaisons during their participation in the program. These emotional entanglements proved to be a distraction to many survivors who were in the program with me at the time. I personally was uncomfortable sharing the details of my trauma in the same group where women were present. I can only imagine the damage which would be caused by requiring a male survivor whose perpetrator was a woman to attend an integrated program."

Lewis will also testify that "upon discharge from this program, they failed to ensure a mental health provider was following me. This caused me significant setbacks because I had to wait almost two months to be seen after returning to Baltimore and became suicidal during the time I was waiting for care."

A spokesman for Bay Pines said the program, singled out last year by a VA inspector general report as a model for other military sexual trauma treatment programs, was designed for both men and women because it reflects "real world situations."

"The reason the program is designed that way, is it is the real world," said spokesman Jason Dangel, who could not comment on Lewis' specific case because of patient confidentiality rules. Patients, he said, "don't have to share anything in a group setting with females. Specific sessions break up male and females. They can disclose anything they want and they are not forced to share their experience with anyone."

Dangel said Bay Pines routinely follows up with patients.

"We follow up with patients very frequently," Dangel said. "We continue to follow them from time to time. That's one of the benefits of the continuum of care you do not receive in the private sector."

In addition to Lewis, several other veterans will testify at the hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m., as well as representatives from VA facilities, including Bay Pines.

Dangel said Bay Pines officials are looking forward to the testimony of Carol O'Brien, chief of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Programs at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.

"We are recognized nationally as a model design," Dangle said. "Is there room for improvement? Of course there is, especially with topics like military sexual trauma and PTSD."

O'Brien, he said, will talk about the treatment that is available, "as well as speak about suggestions for a way forward. I think it will be very helpful for the House to hear."

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

Twitter: @haltman

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