Allison Gill: "What Is Your Status?"
On March of 2009, after a long road of therapy and discovery surrounding my military sexual assault, I opened a claim with the Veteran’s Benefits Administration for PTSD. I told the story of what had happened, pulled together all my PTSD treatment records and submitted my claim. In September of that year, my claim was denied due to a “lack of evidence.” Like many survivors, I hadn’t reported my rape because the Petty Officer I tried to report it to threatened me with punitive action for filing a false report. The VA also said that my PTSD was caused by my father’s death when I was 16.
I was devastated. First the Military Police told me that I wasn’t raped and that the incident was my fault, and now the VA was telling me the same. It took me eight months, with the assistance of therapy, to work up the courage to file an appeal. This time, I had a San Diego County Veteran’s representative to assist me. I also had letters from my therapist and the head of the MST department at the San Diego VA, stating that my PTSD symptoms were not caused by my father’s death, but explicitly by a rape that had happened while I was enlisted.
My appeal was denied again. The VA stated that it was denied because I did not report the rape and because there were no “markers” in my service report showing behavioral or conduct problems because my grades hadn’t suffered and I hadn’t had any discipline problems consistent with rape. Further, they cited an incident of domestic abuse in my health records from 2005 where I had reported bruising on my arms from a boyfriend having grabbed my wrist. I reported this incident so that I could file a restraining order against this man. The VA felt that the incident was probably responsible for my PTSD, and they denied my claim again.
This past May, I filed a second appeal asking for a hearing in Washington DC via videoconference. And had not heard anything back until last week.
On May 20, 2012, shortly after I had filed this second appeal, I ran into my VA primary care provider. I told her where I was with my claim and about all the stress I was experiencing both at work and through the claim process. I told her about my involvement in “The Invisible War,” and how therapeutic the whole experience has been for me. How for the first time, I didn’t feel crazy for thinking I was raped and how I finally understood that it really wasn’t my fault for not reporting. I told her how powerful, reassuring and life affirming it was to hear so many stories of other women who have gone through what I have gone through.
She told me she had a good friend who used to work at the VA and is now the Assistant Director for the Center for Women Veterans and suggested I contact her. That same day, I emailed the Assistant Director and told her my story and talked about my involvement in “The Film” (that’s what the VA calls it).
On Monday July 23rd, I received an email from the Assistant Director saying that she supported me, and had forwarded my issue to Gen Allison Hickey (Ret.), the Under Secretary for Veterans Benefits in Washington D.C.
Tuesday morning, I received a call from a Veteran Service Representative at my local regional office in San Diego. She looked at my case, but because of the regulations that they have to follow at the lower levels, and because there are no “markers” in my file showing that the rape had definitely occurred within service, her hands were tied, but she would expedite my request for a videoconference hearing. She assured me that they have a lot more leeway at that level to make decisions.
The very next day, I received a call from the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator in San Diego. She said: “I have looked over your file, which I haven’t had a chance to review because it’s been in appeals since before I took the job as the MST Coordinator, and I have found a “marker” that will allow me to schedule you a Compensation and Pension exam.” The “marker” she found was that I had reported a sick call right around the time of the incident. Even though I didn’t tell them why I wanted pain medication (I was desperately trying to hide what happened for fear of retribution), she felt that because I sought medical attention, it was a possible to cite this as a marker for the incident.
On July 27th, the Loma Linda University Medical Center called to schedule a two to four hour psychological assessment on August 3rd (they normally take at least 30 days to do this). Simply getting the exam is more than I could have imagined. Because of “The Film,” more has happened regarding my claim in the last four days than has happened in the past three-and-a-half years!
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and even more determined to continue to advocate for the thousands of women whose cases are getting passed over or dismissed
I will keep everyone posted as to the speed and status of claim once my exam is complete! Thank you to Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick for making such an important film, and -- by allowing me to share a small piece of my story within it –giving me the chance to participate in what I now realize is the most important project of my life.