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Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Jessica Brakey feels like she's been wronged all over again.

After she was allegedly raped by an upperclassman during a field-training exercise at the United States Air Force Academy, Jessica began awakening from nightmares and fighting with roommates and boyfriends. Her behavioral problems got the attention of her commanders, and the academy recommended to Air Force Secretary James Roche that she be honorably discharged ("The War Within," January 30, 2003).

As soon as she learned that she was being considered for disenrollment, she asked Congressman Tom Tancredo to help, and he responded immediately. In a November 1, 2002, letter to Roche, Tancredo wrote, "Since early September of this year, my staff has been monitoring the disciplinary case of Cadet Brakey. While there are many aspects to her case, the most alarming is her allegation that she was raped. I am taking the liberty of sending you this fax, because Cadet Brakey notified my office today that she has been ordered to leave the academy by next Monday.

"This young lady is in her senior year and wants to graduate with her class. Whether or not the USAF will commission her is not the point of the letter," Tancredo continued. "Rather, I am concerned that the USAF will: attempt to make her pay for her education to this point; not allow her to complete her final semesters; and will not deal with the seriousness of the charges she has brought forth."

According to a log Tancredo's office kept on Jessica's case, constituent advocate Terry Van Keuren followed up with USAF legislative liaison Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Coy on December 9, 2002, at which time he was informed that Jessica's case was "with the secretary but decision will take a while to review."

However, Tancredo recently learned that the Air Force secretary never received his letter.

That was a surprise to Jessica. "That makes me so mad," she says. "All this time I thought [Roche] was looking it over and deciding my case. That would explain why they're saying I've been discharged."

Because she had to leave the academy while Roche was supposedly considering her case, Jessica moved to Kansas to live with relatives. She was still battling depression and needed to get help. And since she's technically a cadet, she is entitled to military medical benefits. But the nearest Air Force base is three hours from her uncle's home, so academy officials told her to find a provider and have the bills sent to them. For the past few months, she's been seeing a therapist and trying various medications, but after her pharmacy and counseling bills hadn't been paid, her counselor called the academy on March 1 and was told that Jessica's medical benefits had ended. "They told my provider that I'd been discharged," says Jessica, who believes the payments stopped on January 31, when her temporary leave orders expired. "The academy refused to give me open-ended temporary leave orders and told me I was discharged."

Westword inquired about Jessica's benefits in a March 7 voice-mail message left for academy spokeswoman Pamela Ancker. Approximately fifteen minutes later, Ancker called back and confirmed that Jessica's benefits had, indeed, been cut off. But, she said, they were only cut off for one day "due to a paperwork snafu in personnel" and "were turned back on ten minutes ago."

"She hasn't been discharged," Ancker continued, adding that Roche started reviewing Jessica's case last week.

After Jessica and a few other cadets began speaking out, congressmen and reporters alike were flooded with stories of similar mistreatment by the academy. Several numbers have been reported over the past several weeks, but so far, officials have not been able to determine how much overlap there is between the 28 women who have contacted Senator Wayne Allard's office, the 38 victims that Colorado Springs rape crisis counselors know about and the 54 cases Roche mentioned when he appeared recently before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Academy superintendent Lieutenant General John Dallager alluded to the confusion in a February 24 letter he sent to academy alumni. "I was recently apprised of three reports, with inferences there may be more, from former cadets about how their cases were treated once they brought allegations of sexual assault to academy officials," he wrote in the letter obtained by Westword. "Cases such as these are often complex, and news reports typically don't reflect all the factors that must be considered in judging whether these cases have been handled fairly.... Prior to any media coverage, Secretary Roche and I discussed these cases, the current academy environment, and how to proceed."

But a team of investigators that Roche sent to the academy a few weeks ago failed to interview victims. Following criticism from congressmen and the media, the team returned to Colorado Springs this week.

During a press conference at the academy on March 7, Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper said, "We're anxious to talk to everyone." Jumper also vowed not to let the investigation drop if the nation goes to war. "I consider this a prime responsibility," he said. "I won't let either be neglected."

 
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