Metro-East News

Pentagon lowers estimates for sexual assault retaliation

The Pentagon is lowering its estimate of the number of people it believes have faced retaliation for making claims of sexual assault, arguing that what might sometimes feel like revenge may actually be an attempt to help, according to Military.com.

The decision, following a year of debate, is likely to face some criticism, particularly from sexual assault survivors who faced social snubs, harassment, job transfers or other actions in the emotional aftermath of an attack.

But what victims may see as vengeful behavior is, in some cases, actions that are meant to help the survivor heal or get them away from their alleged attackers, military officials say. In other cases, social backlash, bullying or other negative social media behavior may be difficult to pinpoint or trace, and even harder to legally punish.

In December 2014, a RAND survey initially said that more than 60 percent of sexual assault victims believed they had faced some type of retaliation from commanders or peers. That estimate was reduced to about 57 percent last year after officials concluded that the survey questions may have inadvertently included actions by commanders seeking to protect the victim or other social practices that were not designed to persuade a victim not to press forward with criminal proceedings.

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President Barack Obama is increasingly calling upon Special Operations forces to carry out so-called “small wars” across the Middle East and Africa to challenge both Islamic State and al Qaeda in places where the U.S. maintains a footprint beyond Syria and Iraq, according to CNN.

In his first trip overseas since taking command of U.S. Special Operations a month ago, Gen. Raymond Thomas told a Middle Eastern audience recently that “complex” fails to adequately describe the current security environment. That complexity is leading the Obama administration to expand the use of small teams of Special Operators in various terror hotspots.

    Thomas previously served as head of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command — the unit that includes Navy SEALS, the Army’s Delta Force and other covert Special Operations units.

    “We are attempting to identify opportunities to expand [Special Operations'] global presence, forward access and relationships to leverage opportunities short of crisis,” Thomas said.

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    The Hill is reporting that transgender veterans are petitioning the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover gender transition-related surgeries.

    “I served my country with pride, and I should be treated just like my fellow veterans who have access to the treatment they need,” Dee Fulcher, one of the petitioners, said in a written statement Tuesday.

    The petition for a rule change was filed by Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center on behalf of Fulcher and another transgender veteran, Gio Silva, as well as the 2,200-plus member Transgender American Veterans Association. The VA already covers transition-related care for transgender vets including hormone replacement therapy and pre- and post-surgical care.

    But it doesn’t cover any actual surgery, a ban the petition calls “arbitrary and capricious.”

    Surgeries such as mastectomies or penile implants are covered to treat issues such as cancer and traumatic injuries. But transgender veterans can’t get coverage for the same surgeries, says the petition, which was filed late Monday.

    Further, the petition says, transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. That’s the same argument the Justice Department is making against a controversial North Carolina law that requires transgender people use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex.

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    Over the last few months, Richard Overton has had to give up a few things. First, he gave up driving the Ford pickup he had owned for years. Then, after a bad bout with pneumonia in November, he eased up on drinking his beloved whiskey — which, along with cigars, he calls his secret to long life, according to The Statesman of Austin, Texas.

    But when you’re the oldest World War II veteran in the country and you’re turning 110, very few things can bring your mood down. On Wednesday, Overton celebrated his birthday surrounded by family, friends and admirers on the front lawn of his home in East Austin.

    He chomped happily on a cigar as family and friends, some calling him “Pop,” hugged and congratulated him.

    How do I feel?” Overton said. “I feel good. I feel like I’m 50.”

    Overton, who was born in Bastrop County in 1906, served in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 as part of the all-black 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. After the war, he returned to Austin, and he has lived in the same home ever since.

    When new neighbors move in, he tells them about the history of the neighborhood, informing some that their homes used to be horse stables and others, who have trouble with stubborn onions growing in their yards, that the spot where their homes sit used to be someone’s garden.

    Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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