NVLSP Impact Report


F resh out of Army basic training and thousands of miles from home in Germany, 19-year-old Rita Maldonado was trapped in a nightmare. She was sexually assaulted by her superior officer within a week of arriving at her first duty station. When she reported the assault to her unit, she was met with disparagement and ridicule. “My attacker said I was a lying malingerer and that I should get an Article 15 [a non-judicial punishment]. His superior officer accepted his account of the incident and dismissed me from his office.” Maldonado succeeded in getting a change of duty assignment and finished her four-year enlistment. But starting after her discharge in 1981, she experienced panic attacks, severe depression, and insomnia, which drove her to abuse drugs and alcohol. “I was broken, but somehow couldn’t figure out why,” said Maldonado. She was unable to work, and the drugs and alcohol only mitigated symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD )—they didn’t make it go away. After more than two decades of suffering, she finally went to a psychologist, who diagnosed her with PTSD and major depressive disorder related to the in-service sexual assault. Maldonado, now in her mid-40s, applied for VA disability benefits for PTSD in 2009.The VA denied the claim because it didn’t believe that the sexual assault had occurred. Maldonado appealed, adding detailed descriptions of the in-service stressor. After a VA medical examination, the VA reviewed the case again in 2014.This time the VA conceded that the sexual assault had occurred, but denied the PTSD claim based on the VA examiner’s opinion that Maldonado had a borderline personality disorder that was unrelated to the in-service trauma. Within months of Maldonado’s 2014 denial, NVLSP initiated a signature project piloted through its pro bono program—Lawyers Serving Warriors®—to assist survivors of military sexual trauma ( MST ), like Maldonado. Maldonado asked NVLSP to take her case. NVLSP placed her


National Veterans Legal Services Program H

Impact Report

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