Defense Department targets Air Force Academy's use of mental diagnoses to oust cadets who report sexual assault


The Inspector General's Office at the Pentagon will delve into allegations the Academy labeled cadets who report sexual assault with mental diagnosis to oust them from the Air Force Academy. - COURTESY USAFA
  • Courtesy USAFA
  • The Inspector General's Office at the Pentagon will delve into allegations the Academy labeled cadets who report sexual assault with mental diagnosis to oust them from the Air Force Academy.

The Department of Defense Inspector General's Office will look into the Air Force Academy's use of mental health diagnoses to oust cadets who report they've been sexually assaulted from the military school, as reported in detail by the Independent last summer (Cover, "The blame game," July 19, 2017).  A companion piece explored how the Academy tracks, or doesn't track, sexual assault reports.

From that story:
... current and former cadets who say they were victims of sexual assault claim the Academy uses mental health counselors — the very people assigned to help them — to add diagnoses to their record in a way that could damage their prospects permanently. Once victims are labeled with a serious mental illness, they can be expelled and even forced to reimburse the Academy for their education.
The inquiry stems from requests by Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, and Tom Udall of New Mexico.

One of the cadets featured in the Indy's report, Adam DeRito, was ousted just hours before he graduated. From the Indy story:
Adam DeRito was a mere three hours from graduation in 2010 when the Academy yanked him from the Cadet Wing while his family was present, he says. After a month in limbo, then-Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould told DeRito he was being disenrolled. "They tried to say I was a bad cadet," DeRito says.

It wasn't until years later that he accidentally discovered that the Academy, a year after he was disenrolled, had labeled him as mentally ill. He's since earned two degrees, served with the Colorado Army National Guard, and landed a lucrative job in the oil and gas industry.

On June 20, 2011, [DeRito's Academy] record shows a "records review" led to the mental diagnosis entries, which labeled him with "impulse control disorder" and "personality disorder NOS [not otherwise specified]"...

Both diagnoses are attributed as being entered by Kristin Henley Price at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson. DeRito says he's never met that person and has never seen a care provider at Carson. Carson spokesperson Daneta Johnson says via email that Henley Price "is not an Evans employee but an active duty Air Force doctor who at the time was stationed at the Academy clinic. We are not sure why it listed Evans as the clinic. Since she is not Army or an Evans employee, you will need to go to Air Force for your information."

DeRito tells the Indy via email he's been working with Gillibrand about his case. He's also been in touch with the office of Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat. His office refused to confirm that to the Indy, saying constituent matters are confidential.

In its March 1 edition, the Gazette and author Tom Roeder seem to take credit for the pending investigation, writing: "The latest investigation comes after congressional scrutiny hit the school following revelations about the sexual assault office first reported in The Gazette last fall."

However, the daily newspaper hasn't reported about the Academy's alleged use of mental diagnoses, following sexual assaults, to provide the foundation for expulsion of cadets. The Indy broke that story in July. 

A person familiar with Academy issues who asked not to be named for fear of retribution confirmed the DOD IG investigation "is directly tied to what the Independent published."

Here's the announcement made by the DOD IG's office on Feb. 27:
The evaluation objective is to determine whether the USAFA, USAFA SAPR [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] Office, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) respond to, support, and provide victim care to cadet victims of sexual assault as required by DoD, Air Force, USAFA, and AFOSI policies and procedures. Aspects of the evaluation will include:

• the USAFA SAPR Office’s support of USAFA cadet victims of sexual assault;
• the AFOSI’s responses to and investigations of sexual assaults of USAFA cadets;
• USAFA mental health support and services (to include mental health separations) provided to USAFA cadet victims of sexual assault and,
• USAFA leadership’s support of USAFA cadet victims of sexual assault. 

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