Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Marissa: Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Today, I have two really awesome guests I'm really excited to chat with. The first one is Shanta Block. She's the sister of Kamisha Block, who was murdered in Iraq by someone in her chain of command, the military label the death as a friendly fire and then attempt to cover it up. And we're going to talk a lot more about that in a minute. And we also have on Jennifer Norris, who is a veteran and an active military advocate fighting for the rights of people who are unlawfully treated by the military. And I'm so excited to delve more into that because they explain this way better than I do. So welcome on, guys.
Jen: Thank you for having me.
Shonta: Thank you for having me.
Marissa: Of course. So, the first thing I really want to talk about is you to have different but similar stories. So Shonta, you did not serve, correct? You just your sister Kamisha did.
Marissa: So how did you two find each other?
Shonta: Well, Jen, would you like to answer that one?
Jen: Sure. This is kind of how it played out my life. One of my first research projects was to learn more about the non-combat deaths of our soldiers overseas. So, by non combat deaths, I mean, that's the label that the military gives it in an effort to hide what's considered non-combat, meaning suicide, homicide, or some other unknown cause of death. So, I wanted to bring light to all the non combat deaths overseas and find out what the common denominator was. And in my research, I learned about Kamisha. And learned, because of the family's efforts, that it was labelled "friendly fire,” when in fact, it was a homicide by someone in her chain of command. And so, as I moved forward in life, and in my advocacy, I was fighting for Kamisha and the rest of the soldiers that had died overseas in suspicious circumstances. And one day, I was sitting here watching, Investigation Discovery and Kamisha’s story was on a show called Forbidden: Dying For Love. Finally, we got an opportunity to see what really happened over there because the family, their advocacy efforts had reached a bigger audience, including myself. So, it reignited my fire to talk about those cases and deal with it now that we knew the truth about Kamisha. And somewhere along the line, Shonta just found me, and it was like a dream come true, actually, that I'd be working with her on behalf of her sister. Because before I even knew Shonta, I was fighting for Commission's rights and what had happened to her and everything else, and trying to find ways that we could have prevented what happened to her. So, it was an honor that her sister reached out to me, and that we're now in a partnership to stand up for those that have lost their lives. Especially since 9-11.
Marissa: Wow, well, first of all, thank you for doing everything that you're doing. That's incredible. And so important. I mean, you're giving a voice to the literal voiceless, in a situation where they already are out of control. So, thank you so much for doing that. And I think it's so special that you guys have created a partnership out of something so horrible. So Shonta do you want to tell us a little bit about what happened to your family?
Shonta: Yes. So, in the beginning, before my sister was murdered, I had gotten a phone call from her. And she just kept saying, “He won't leave me alone. He won't leave me alone.” And I said, “Is there anybody that you can talk to?” She said, “There's nobody. There's nobody, I can talk to you here." And I said, “Maybe there's a church there?” And she said, “No, I'm in Iraq, Shonta. There’s no church to go to.” And I was like, “Well, I mean, do I need to call the Red Cross?” You know, I didn't know how serious it was. You know, she was like, no, no. I said, Well, you know, you're coming home next month on leave, you'll be alright. You know, you'll be home next month. You know, in the very next week, it was the day before my birthday stateside, but over there it was my birthday. So, she contacts me and I talked to her on webcam for a few minutes and she tells me happy birthday and I'm like, it's not till tomorrow, and she’s, Like over here it is the 17th. And I'm like, okay, you know, and I said, you want to see your nephew. And she was like, Yeah, because she hadn't seen yet. I was pregnant when she left. And she was he was a month and a half old, and I put him in my lab and she was crying. And I told her that I had to pack the diaper bag, because we were going to celebrate my birthday that night with my friends, and go to dinner. And so I was packing in the diaper bag. Well, I seen my sister's killer in the webcam. I seen his face, like, go right into the webcam. And I didn't pay no mind to it, though. You know, I was packing the diaper bag. And I told her I loved her and went on to mom's and dropped Hayden off, my son, and started going down the road. And there was like a really nice car going really slow. And I was like, why are these people going so slow down my parent’s road. They live on a dead end, you know? And I look and it was to service members in the vehicle. And I was like, Oh my God. And I kind of knew, you know, I was like, thinking in my mind, I was like, man, they don't come to your house tell you they're hurt. They're going to call you, you know? I'm freaking out and turn the truck around. And I get to the end of the street and I didn't even kill the vehicle And I got out. And they were facing me. And I seen that bottle behind that Chaplain’s back, and I just lost it. I mean, I just lost it. I told him just don't even tell me. Just don't even say it. And I saw my mom, mom and my dad come out on the front porch, and my mom just went to scream and she was just screaming at the top of her lungs. And, and my dad, I watched him cry for the first time. They said that my sister was shot by friendly fire, one shot to the chest. And it took five days to get her body home and they said her body was flown to Washington DC to be dressed. And then when it got here, it was sent to the funeral home first and I let my mom and my dad go in their first month. Like Come on. I said, “Why don't why don't you and Dad go in there first. You and Pop go in there first. And I'll wait right here by the door, I won't go nowhere. In just a couple minutes come get me. Just go in there first.” And so, I waited by the door. Mom come just a few minutes. And she said, “Shonta. You ready?” And I said yes, ma'am. So, I walked up, walk in there and mom and dad stepped to the back of the room. And she said go ahead and go up there Shonta. So, I walked out there, and I looked down and my sisters got a bullet hole in her head with a putty patch on it. Just looked like putty stuck in it. And it wasn't her hair on her head. It was a bun glued on the back of her head. My sister's hair was to her chin. And I turned around I said mom, she's been shot in the head. I said this is not even her hair on her hand. And she said Shonta, I know. She said nobody comes in this room. She said, we got to get home and we got to get on the phone. And we need some answers. And what do you do when you're just a civilian? You're up against the government? What do you do? So, mom got hime and she calls the casualty assistance officer, and she says I want to know what happened to my daughter, and I want to know who killed her. I want to name. So a little while later they call back and they give a fake name. I said his name was Carl Brandon. And I got to think and I was like well, I don't think Brandon's a last name. Pretty sure that's a first name. This is not a last name. Something just don't sound right. And she said no. So, she calls back. She says I'd like to get a full name, please and then they call and they said Brandon Paul Norris. Like, Oh, my God.
Marissa: You okay?
Shonta: Yeah. So, you know, time goes on. And we finally get a report. You know, we had to go to the congressman's office. And actually, he told the military, they had six months to get a report on his desk in the very last day of the six months is when the report showed up, and half of it was missing. Actually, even more than half after years went by, we found out that we really only have about a quarter of it. 440 pages out of about 2200. Well, we didn't know in there, even the congressman question that you know, and you just never get nowhere because there's really not any laws set up. It's like they have immunity. They can murder your own and get away with it. And I believe I know that.
Marissa: I would say I know for sure that they know that. And they take advantage of that. As we've heard on other episodes of Breaking Through Our Silence, and as we've heard from stories from hundreds of other families like Vanessa Guillen’s Family. And it's not okay.
Shonta: Right. So, time went on mom fought and fought. Congress and Brady actually pulled the officers in his office, and let us question them. They would not talk about anything. Pretty much like what they were supposed to be doing, you know, like maybe what their job was. I mean, just talking around everything. They never really answered any question. And we knew that soldiers over there were placed on Gag orders, that they weren't allowed to talk to my family. There was really nothing that you could do at the time and about, I don't know, years went on and Investigation Discovery Channel did that documentary that Miss Norris mentioned earlier. And soldiers seen it and started coming forward. A lot of times, because of fear of retaliation, they don't speak about it. But it's 10 years later at this point. They're out, their stateside. They don't have that hand over them, you know. So, then they all started speaking up and said, Miss Block, this is what happened. This is what happened. I was able to get the case reopened, and it ended up being the first homicide case in the Army to ever be reopen by the Pentagon — by the DODIG — Department of Defense Investigating General. Later on, Miss Norris had found out, by the records, this is the first one. And people kept saying that, I really didn't realize what they were saying. And now I understand. What if there was never a homicide case ever reopened stateside ever? Or there was only one. This is the situation that we have going on in the military. This is what we're dealing with. It's reality.
Marissa: I want to go back and focus on the significance of the person who killed her. And if you don't mind talking about it. So, you said that you saw her killer in the camera, in the webcam when you spoke to her earlier that day. So, do you know anything about him or who he was?
Shonta: Yeah. I mean, she had met him in Fort Hood, in a restaurant bar thing. His friend said that he walked over to her. And later, about, I know he started abusing her at Fort Hood. I don't know that it was reported to the PSG, the platoon sergeant. He was actually friends with the killer, because he was an officer there. And so, they let him slide on everything. Well, my sister gets sent to Iraq in a few months, you know, only maybe three months of being at Fort Hood. Well, Brandon Norris is still at Fort Hood. And he's got some training to do. And my sister goes to Iraq. Well, all of a sudden Brandon shows up in Iraq. So, who placed him in Iraq, then placed him as her squad leader? Who pulled the string? Who gave him full access to her, I want to know? In another country, where you know where to turn to. No FBI, no state police, no, nothing?
Marissa: That's disgusting.
Shonta: Nowhere to turn to. But the ones that are actually letting it happen and doing it.
Marissa: And allowing after reports are being made of abuse, and stalking. Allowing him access.
Shonta: So, they get in Iraq, then it goes to abusing her again. Well, a couple of soldiers go in and report it. The PST does nothing. So, then they go to the first sergeant. And they tell him and the captain sitting in there. And that soldier ends up getting moved that day, right then for telling. And this is a male, not a woman, because in the military. I mean, that kind of I mean, they look at males, and that's disgusting, too. They look at them as more than a woman, you know, a woman gets called a soul instead of a soldier, you know? And they're not, you know, they're not another body. These soldiers are men and women, gettin’ murdered by our own people. And the families are not getting answers, and they're not getting justice.
Marissa: Since the case was reopened, have you guys received any additional assistance from the military or is this still an uphill battle?
Shonta: No, they closed it. They closed it right when Vanessa died. That's when it got closed.
Shonta: And they said no new findings and hurried up and closed it. And then the first sergeant that I'm after, that was recorded to he just took retirement in Fort Hood two days on the eighth before the independent investigation got there. And he Just had an IG case on him. The first ever homicide case for a cover up. That's what my papers from the Pentagon.
Marissa: God, it's just bullshit on top of bullshit, essentially.
Marissa: So, Jen, do you mind weighing in on this? Because this is what you do.
Jen: Yeah. So okay, all of this was by accident. I want to start off with that. I was a victim of crime while I was in the military. And I witnessed the injustice and how they pretend that the military justice system is equal to the civilian justice system. In fact, it is not. It is set up to protect people in leadership. And that's basically the bottom line. So, I learned the hard way that although the people that I reported, and eventually pled out, in fact, what that meant was, they asked me to agree to the terms of which were, “If you agree to these terms, it all goes away.” And they don't even have to report that anything even happened to any higher authority. So, it can all be swept under the rug at the lowest level. And the Pentagon and Department of Defense, even if they did care, wouldn't even know about it. So that's what inspired me to actually get involved once I was forced out for post traumatic stress, was what an unfair system this is. You give my perpetrators full military retirement, yet you're kicking me out because I have post traumatic stress from what they did. What kind of system is this? So, the reason that I had empathy for Kamisha especially, is because I could have been Kamisha. I was in a situation where I worked as a satellite communications technician, and there were like five people on the team. If I had deployed overseas with my perpetrator, who was also in my chain of command, he was the supervisor. What would I have done? Where would I have turned. there is no 9-11 overseas. I lost my father right after 9-11. So, my new command or spared me from going overseas because he knew I wasn't doing well mental health wise because of the loss of my father. And that's what saved me from going into positions like that overseas, where there's no escape. But at the same time, Congress and everybody knows that women in combat ban have been lifted, more women are going to go overseas, yet they still haven't fixed the situation overseas as to where do you turn to if your chain of command fails you, Or they're the perpetrator themselves? Why do we have to choose death? Because their policies are messed up?
Jen: It's unbelievable to me that we have not had this conversation, yet they're bragging every day, about women making strides here, there and everywhere, knowing that we could all get sent overseas on a moment's notice and be a Kamisha Block. What happened to her can happen tomorrow, and it happened stateside to Vanessa Guillen to show the entire nation it can happen on a federal base too. We can't just quit our jobs. We can't just say Oh, I'm sorry. I don't want to work for my rapist anymore without a federal AWOL charge.
Shonta: And the deaths aren't getting labelled right, so we really don't even know how bad it is. I mean, look at Lavina Johnson. She was shot in the wrong side of the head. I mean, acid was poured in her mouth, you know. And they call it a suicide. They call it a suicide.
Marissa: That's disgusting.
Jen: So, there's no checks and balances for the military overseas. There's no one to turn to reopen an investigation. There's no one to question them about how things happen. And they're hiding behind the non-combat death label. There's a story behind each and every one of those non-combat deaths, whether it be from suicide, or homicide, it really doesn't matter at this point. Because if I’d gone overseas, with my rapist, I can see taking my life. I got to get away from him after the cases and I still wanted to take my life. So why wouldn't I want to take my life overseas, if the only alternative was him raping me every day, or beating me or whatever it is that he could do overseas, and there's no one around to stop it. It's no different than being trapped in a domestic violence relationship, you know, with a significant other. they're your family. you depend on them for your life. So, if you anyone's Wondering why the soldiers that post-traumatic stress so bad, if they do make it out alive, that's why.
Marissa: And the worst part about it is that you are legally bound to stay. Or else you're dishonorably discharged and have the most difficult time having getting a job like doing little things, because of that dishonorable discharge, because you stuck up for yourself and did what you needed to do to survive.
Jen: Right. And so, Congress has been giving us crumbs all along. We asked for what the Vanessa Guillen Act is asking for now, back in 2010-2011-2012 timeframe. And we asked for specifically, the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would basically start changing the military justice system to mirror the civilian justice system. So instead of it going to your boss who can hide the crime, or can choose not to do anything about it, because they're buddies with your perpetrator, or whatever it might be. They want to protect their career, there's all kinds of number of reasons that they're covering things up. They couldn't do that anymore, because then you'd report to a police department or, you know, some sort of investigative authority, who would then investigate the situation. And then present it to a prosecutor who then decides whether or not there's a case to move forward. We all we're asking for is that the military justice system, mirror the civilian justice system, and make the system so that the commander is held responsible too, because they could be the rapist. Why are they immune from being held responsible? Because really, what the military is telling the entire country is, we're going to investigate ourselves and commanders are judge, jury and executioner. And yeah, there's no checks and balances for that. If you don't like it too bad. Oh, you think that case should be reopened? There is no way to reopen it what we said goes. That’s not okay.
Marissa: That's your right. That's not okay. So, what is it that we can do, as a country to change that? To make it fair, and to make it safe, because I don't have kids yet, but I know as a human that if my child wants to serve, I will most likely throw a tantrum until they don't, because of all these horrendous stories. And it's not because I'm anti-America, or anti-military, I think that we need protection. But I'm so scared for, for people for any service member, especially women, because we're vulnerable and put at a significant disadvantage.
Jen: Yeah, I was the only female in my work center. And so, I was an automatic target. So, if I go overseas with this group, and one of them turns out to be the rapist, most likely I'm going to be the chosen victim. So, you're definitely put at a disadvantage in that way. So, what I want to see happen is, so Kamisha’s case woke me up to the fact that she wasn't a victim of sexual assault, she was a victim of more of an interpersonal violence. So, one of the things that we need in place is an expedited transfer. So that would be a way for the military member to escape their perpetrator, whether it be from sex assault, domestic violence, stalking, hazing, bullying, whatever it is. But unfortunately, right now, the expedited transfer policy only covers sex, assault, and rape. And I don't want to see the military member have to wait and get assaulted or raped before they can get away from their perpetrator. I'd like to see it expanded so that if they're dealing with escalating sexual harassment, or interpersonal violence, or whatever the situation might be, that they'd be given this expedited transfer to get them away from this person who's obsessed with them and won't leave them alone. Because once you're a victim of that, you figure out really quick, like, Wow, I've been targeted. And no matter what I say, or do I can't stop this. So, we literally need someone to help us escape these situations that otherwise we can't escape without getting federal charges. And where do you go in a place like Iraq? You know, even if you wanted to go AWOL? What are you going to do go run into one of the villages? Like there's nowhere to turn. You know what I mean? Like this is the reality of this situation out in the desert. All I know is why haven't we had this discussion and why haven't they fixed this? And that's going to be the number one thing is to get us to safety, because if you report, it now is a motive for homicide.
Shonta: Right. They get retaliated on.
Jen: And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recognized that with the Military Justice Improvement Act, why we needed to change the reporting system was, because two-thirds of the people that reported to the military got retaliated against including myself. I got retaliated against so badly, that I had to change squadrons to escape the abuse, because I made him lose his job. That's why they hated my guts. Not that he was a rapist. Not that he was an assaulter or harasser, even though some of them witnessed it. I made him lose his job. No, he didn't lose crap. He got through retire was full military benefits. But as if I'm going to have this conversation with the, you know, judgmental, cruel people.
Shonta: Here we go. Seeing that again. In Kamisha’s cases, this first sergeant is now Sergeant Major and in charge of military police at Fort Hood. And he gets out on retirement two days from the independent investigation. He sneaks out on retirement, too.
Jen: Yep, one of the main players, in Kamisha’s case, helping cover this whole thing up overseas, that Fort Hood had the audacity to retire him in the middle of everything. And he's been at that base since at least 2007 because that's when Kamisha was there. So, of all the people in the world, this guy has institutional knowledge of what's been happening at Fort Hood for years, and they retire him.
Shonta: Right, because he's the military police. So, when there's a crime scene, they show up, the military police show up.
Jen: But what people don't realize is that everybody reports to the commander. So, it would be like in the civilian justice system, saying everybody's got to report to the judge. So, I would have to report to the judge, the police would have to report to the judge. You know, it, basically, that's what the military justice system’s Problem is. Is this one person controls everything, including how it's investigated, what said in an investigation report, whatever. Because the bottom line is, the military does not want you to know that people have been murdered overseas because they don't want to impact their recruiting efforts to get new, young, fresh faces in that have no idea what they're getting ready to step into. So, they can just keep making the same mistakes over and over at our expense. When in fact, all they'd have to do is have a decent justice system that actually cared about things. Include all the reports that are made, so that you'd have multiple people that could you could go to court with to get the one person who was the serial offender, and give them an expedited transfer to get them to safety and let them get some help. Yet, here we are.
Marissa: I have a difficult time even considering these mistakes. Because I have like I said, I've never served, the closest I got was to was being a contractor for the Army Reserve. And even I know that the most vulnerable population are E1-E4. And if I know that being an outside third-party person, the military definitely knows that. And I would, I would even go as far as say they exploit that because they don't protect those people. And by knowing, having that knowledge, and making no effort to protect the enlisted soldiers who are fighting for this country, who are literally like the foundation of you know, our service, our Armed service, to not protect them is ridiculous, and to not put protections in place for those people that they know are vulnerable is intentional.
Jen: That's how it feels. That I have moral injury from knowing everything that I know, especially after doing the research and then meeting the families who are left behind with the not never getting answers. Not having a justice system that they can get the case reopened. Getting treated like crap and having to deal with all kinds of red tape and bureaucracy. Because no one knows where to turn. No one knows that the commander is in charge of everything. Like they're coming at it from you know, I've never been in the military. I don't even know where to start. And not realizing that they have to actually contact a commander, not a police officer, not a detective, or whatever. And then that person can stop that, and then it goes nowhere. So yeah, I can't believe, today, in 2020, we’re having a conversation that we can't reopen, there isn't a streamlined process for reopening cases. Federal cases that occur on federal bases or overseas.
Marissa: And even that there’s, in 2020, no accountability. Right? Like you guys said, it's 100% of the commander's discretion.
Shonta: Yep. And part if the problem, when the investigators show up on the crime scene is, they have anything to do with it. Like in my sister's case, you know, they were reported to, I don't know how many times. So they didn't do anything. So then when these investigators show up, they will they didn't probably ever even get informed of that. You know? Where does it go? Right? And a fair part of the problem. When the investigators show up on the crime scene, if they have anything to do with it, like in my sister's case, you know, they were reported to, I don't know how many times so they didn't do anything. So then when these investigators show up, they will they didn't probably ever even get informed of that, you know, where does it go? And then if you find something out later, you give it to these investigators, will they tell these commanding officers, and they give them a head start on what you know, because they're running the investigation.
Jen: They can easily sabotage any investigation to protect themselves. And you know, let me make it clear too. That we're not saying every single commander is going to do this, and they're all covering everything up. I'm saying, the opportunity to be able to cover something up is there. There’s no checks and balances to prevent that. And the reason that we're calling it out now is that there's been too many families that have stated, I don't believe my child died by suicide, in country, A, B, or C,
Shonta: Right? My paperworks not lining up. You know? And these soldiers have come forward, and they're saying this.
Jen: Right. So, and I'm seeing the same stories over and over, because I'm doing the military-wide research. So, it's hard to find the information in the state, because not everything goes national. But where there is a lot of valuable data for us to learn to, from as a society is overseas with all the non combat deaths If we start looking into that, to find out how we can solve the problems in the military, whether it be suicide or crime, we have to look at why they've chosen to take their life if we can determine that. And by doing that, we reach out to the Gold Star families, the people that knew them the best to find out why they did it, so that we could find ways to prevent it. Because until we actually find out why, And we start going at the root of the problem like that, you know, we're just going to keep spinning. And that's what we're seeing too is every year sweeping legislation to prevent this or that, and then nothing happens. The numbers go up, the numbers of suicides are the highest they've been. At Fort Hood alone, they've lost more soldiers to homicide in the last five years than they have overseas. And Fort Hood is symbolic of the rest of the bases. They're just more secretive. So that's why I tapped into non-combat deaths overseas, because all the press releases are on the Department of Defense website, currently, until they delete that too, and take that information away from us. But for now, it's on there. And you can clearly look through and see whether they died in combat or non-combat death. And then from there, you can google the person's name, and find out whether or not the family thought form in the media or whatever, because that's really the only place they can turn to try and hold these guys accountable. And so that you're out there. Yeah, that's how I realized it was multiple families that had fought for justice but we didn't know nationwide because it was only local. And so, once you put start putting all those families together and seeing they're all saying the same thing, that's when you start noticing a pattern, and that's where you start realizing, Okay, wow, I didn't realize there's no place to turn to reopen a case. A federal case if it was on a base or overseas. Where’s the checks and balances here?
Marissa: Right. On the civilian side, about 40% of female homicide victims previously made reports on their abusers of abusive behavior. And those ended up being the killers. So, I would be curious to know what that number is for military. Especially because making a report doesn't necessarily grant something written, you know, right. So, I would like to know How many female homicide victims made reports of stalking, harassment, abuse, rape, before they were then murdered?
Shonta: Absolutely, that what came out from doing the research is I'd find the non combat death I started with females, because it's a smaller population and not as overwhelming. There's a lot of males that have died from non-combat deaths, two that I care very much about and want to explore more. But I started out with the females. And I realized there was a common theme over and over from the parents that they soldier had reported rapes, the soldier had reported harassment, the soldier had reported, in Kamisha’s case, interpersonal violence over and over and over. And then that's what caught my attention was, wait a minute, these are crimes that could have been prevented. And because of military policy, these people are having to choose death, whether it be by their perpetrator, or they take their own lives. And that we can fix. And that's the mission that I'm on right now is fixing the military policy necessary to get these people to safety. So, they can live and not die because the military doesn't have the right policy in place. And where do they turn to you with the chain of command fails them? We need some sort of bug out plan and overseas locations. Especially Kamisha. She shouldn't have had to chosen death, because no one would help her. And she had nowhere to turn. And that's our current situation. That's reality right now for the US military.
Marissa: So, what advice do you guys have for either families of people serving, or people that are serving to help keep themselves safe? And for the families to help keep their family member their service member family safe?
Shonta: Oh, man, all I can say is mind your business, and don't do nothing extra for nobody.
Marissa: Isn't that awful thing to think? I mean, you're right…
Jen: Pray that you don't become a victim. Because once you do, life as you know it, it will never be the same. Because you can't just get out of the military, you have to stay in and deal with their abuse until you can get out of the military. And why should an 18-year-old or a 20-year-old or a 22-year-old die when the military is a temporary situation? Why can't we just fix our discharge policy, if you hate us that much that you're going to bully us to death? Because we had the nerve to report and inconvenience you and your job? You know, why can't you just like find some compassionate way to let them get help and then get out? Instead of them having to choose death? Why aren't we having that conversation? And as long as everything goes good in your career, you'll be good. But until you have to deal with the military justice system, in any capacity, you'll find out really quick, you're going to get sold out quicker than you know what, until we take the power out of the chain of command and put it in the hands of somebody else, like a police department where that's their only job. Just do what we do in our own communities with our police departments not have my dad being in charge of the entire town. You know? Really, that's what they're asking us to do in the military. Dad, you’re going to use your iron fist to run this town through those police departments. You know, really, that's what they're saying. So, we can until we can change that we're not going to be able to really give people hope on the military justice end. But there are laws that people can help fight for, in the meantime, to provide those safety measures so that we can prevent anything happening to their loved one should they choose to join the military. So, they can contact their congressional members and help support the Brandon Act, which would be a law that is named for Brandon Caserta. And it would allow people to get mental health treatment, as opposed to choose suicide while they're in the military. So at least that would be some measure of hope for them until they can get out, or their situation can change. Then we've been fighting for the Military Justice Improvement Act since 2013. That would remove the decision making of felony crimes out of the hands of the commander and into the police department, detectives, prosecutors’ hands to make those decisions. So more along the lines of independent investigations. And then recently they've come out with a Vanessa Guillen Act, that's tackling the sexual assault and sexual harassment issue that we’re dealing with, that lead to other crimes. So, if we take these crimes more seriously, then we can prevent the homicide. So, you know, you'll find the terms of that bill in the online in the IAmVanessaGuillen And then there's other bills too And I list everything on my website, military justice for all. Basically, I track the military legislation history as well so that I know what to share with people and they know what to ask for. So, we can make these changes. But we really need people to like take action on our behalf to get these issues addressed as quickly as possible. Because Meanwhile, people are dying in the data backs it up, like our suicides are the highest they've been active duty wise, our veteran suicide is high, we'd like to prevent them from even getting post traumatic stress to begin with, so if we tackle things on the military, and we could actually make some real change and save some lives.
Marissa: And what about you, Shonta? Do you have any, as the sister of a of a veteran? Do you have any advice for families that might be going through this?
Shonta: I mean, don't give up. I mean, I know it's an endless battle right now. And I know there's really, I mean, there's no laws and stuff set up for justice at the moment. But I mean, I have written a bill for accountability and justice. And hopefully family, you know, it'll get passed and families will be able to get answers and justice. And then a court system that just like, you know, there is in the state when there's a murder. Right now, there's nothing like that. So, I mean, don't give up and he could send for four years, and you can always be trying to do a DODIG report, you know, if something's wrong. It's still no hope when they're investigating themselves, because it just gets given right back to the same in the the investigation. I don't know. Just don't stop, you know, always tell your story.
Jen: Because collectively, their voices do speak and her bill that she's talking about, is the first time that anybody's asked for a way to reopen investigations in the military. Because really, what she's saying is, if we don't reopen this, like we're letting a killer roam free, potentially. And so the family has evidence of some sort where we can bring it forward to an independent investigator and get it reopened as a homicide, potentially, then we're doing our job, which is trying to put criminals away, and why they wouldn't have anything in place to deal with that is beyond me. But it's the same organization that doesn't have one place to go to find out all the unsolved homicides that they do acknowledge, and missing cases. Nothing surprises me, it seems that the institution's reputation is more important than actually solving cases. God forbid, they put unsolved cases on and turn off a new recruit that, you know, has no idea how dangerous the military really is. So therefore, them hiding the data hurts people because we can't make informed consent on whether or not we want to join a dangerous organization or not. Do we even want to take that chance? So, the Kamisha Block Accountability And Justice Bill would be an excellent answer to help us start solving some of these unsolved cases with all these other families that have come forward and collectively said, something's wrong with this investigation. I don't think this is suicide. It's a homicide.
Shonta: And I think the numbers would go down. I mean, if we started seeing accountability, why wouldn't the numbers go down?
Marissa: Right. If they're held accountable, the people that are doing the awful things, and will be probably kicked out of the military, are discharged. And it will scare other people from taking advantage of the vulnerable population.
Jen: It really is important that people contact their congressional members because like the squeaky wheel does get the grease, and we really need civilians by the numbers. What it boils down to is, if the military doesn't take care of their crime issues, it's spilling out into the civilian world. And my research backs up that they've been let out under these kinds of circumstances and then turn around and kill somebody in the civilian world. So, the military, not dealing with their issues is already impacting civilian society and has been for years. And nobody says anything until after the fact when they're in court and finally can get the data that's hidden to find out, “Oh, wow, he was problematic in the military, too." So, it's coming out in these court cases, but I think collectively we need to talk about its impact on our civilians as well. Their policy is killing our civilians.
Marissa: You're absolutely correct. I think it needs to start from the top and work its way — clean house and work its way into the foundation. Thank you so much for being here today and for chatting with me. You brought up and touched on a lot of really important topics and made some really awesome points And I'm hoping that in the next year, all of these bills will pass : The Brandon Act, The Kamisha Block Accountability and Justic Bill, The Vanessa Guillen Act. That's our job as civilians is to protect the people that are protecting us. We're now fighting for their freedom as well and for their safety.
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