In the USA...
February 27, 2013 01:00 PMScalia Calls Voting Rights Act Perpetual 'Racial Entitlement'
Today was the day that the Republican challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was argued before the Supreme Court. Arguments were fiery, but this particular quote from Justice Scalia was one worthy of Jim Crow. If ever there was a reason to preserve Section 5, Scalia articulated it. Via TPM:
Roberts and Kennedy led the questioning challenging the Voting Right Act. Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the questioning defending it.
Justice Antonin Scalia attributed the continued congressional reauthorization to a perpetual “racial entitlement” and suggested that it will be renewed into “perpetuity” because members of Congress would never let it lapse for fear for political repercussions.
“I don’t think there is anything to gain by any senator by voting against this Act,” Scalia said. “This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress. They’re going to lose votes if they vote against the Voting Rights Act. Even the name is wonderful.”
The purpose of Section 5 was to proactively quash voter discrimination where it’s most likely to emanate, but conservatives argue that it has outlived its purpose and now discriminates against the mostly southern regions covered.
If we learned anything from 2010 and 2012, I'd like to think we learned that not only is Section 5 critical to holding free and fair elections, but that it should be expanded, not tossed out. Justice Scalia's remarks reinforce how important it is that this provision be preserved, since he sees voting rights as some sort of "entitlement" --at least, for some people.
Update: Here is the transcript of his remarks, courtesy of Daily Kos:
JUSTICE SCALIA: ...This Court doesn't like to get involved in -- in racial questions such as this one. It's something that can be left -- left to Congress.
The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a -- in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was -- in the Senate, there -- it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.
Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.
And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don't think that's attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
I don't think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless -- unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there's a good reason for it.
That's the -- that's the concern that those of us who -- who have some questions about this statute have. It's -- it's a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose -- they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.
Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?
Yeah, the name is wonderful. It's the foundation of that thing we call democracy.
February 28, 2013Voting Law Decision Could Sharply Limit Scrutiny of Rules
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — If the Supreme Court strikes down or otherwise guts a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, there will be far less scrutiny of thousands of decisions each year about redrawing district lines, moving or closing polling places, changing voting hours or imposing voter identification requirements in areas that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters, voting law experts say.
A close look at the law demonstrates how a series of seemingly technical details amount to what is essentially a safeguard against violations in those states and regions covered by the law — most of which are in the South.
It also shows how that very bulwark comes at the cost of sharply tilting the playing field against those areas in ways that several conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices expressed alarm about during arguments on Wednesday.
The legal issue turns on two main parts of the act: Section Five, which covers jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, and Section Two, which covers the entire country. Both sections outlaw rules that intentionally discriminate against or otherwise disproportionately harm minority voters. Section Two would remain in effect even if the court strikes down Section Five.
But reliance only on Section Two would mean a crucial difference in how hard it may be to block a change in voting rules in an area that is currently covered by Section Five. Those jurisdictions, because of their history of discrimination, must prove that any proposed change would not make minority voters worse off.
By contrast, under Section Two, the burden of proof is on a plaintiff to demonstrate in court that a change would prevent minorities from having a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
“Getting rid of Section Five is not getting rid of voting rights; it would just make voting rights litigation look like normal lawsuits,” said Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the Cato Institute, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to strike down Section Five. “It would mean that if the federal government claims people have been harmed, it would have to prove it.”
But J. Gerald Hebert, who formerly handled voting rights litigation for the Justice Department and is now in private practice, said that losing Section Five would be “devastating to protecting voting rights” because the costs of a lawsuit are so steep. Jon Greenbaum, the legal director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said it would mean that the bulk of changes that now receive automatic scrutiny by the federal government could take effect without any review, eliminating a deterrent against mischief.
“Section Five makes all the voting changes public and transparent, because when they are submitted for preclearance, the Justice Department will call local folks in the community and get their take on it,” Mr. Greenbaum said. “If you have no Section Five, a lot of stuff will just go under the radar.”
One reason for the difference is that in places covered under Section Five, changes are automatically blocked until the proposal is reviewed and approved by the Justice Department or a panel of judges. In the interim, the old rules still apply.
By contrast, a plaintiff in a Section Two lawsuit must convince a court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop a change from taking effect.
Moreover, it is a “huge,” difference, Mr. Hebert said, that under Section Five, the starting premise is that the covered state or locality’s change may be discriminatory, and the state or locality bears the burden of proving otherwise. Under Section Two, a plaintiff must prove wrongdoing.
Since states or other places covered under Section Five must prove that their proposed changes are acceptable, they have a strong incentive to provide the data — voter rolls, driver’s license database and other demographic data — that is often necessary ton analyze the impact of a change, but can be costly and cumbersome to produce. In a Section Two case, the challenger must fight in court to obtain such data.
The decision-maker, too, is different. Places covered under Section Five must persuade people who live in or near Washington — either officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, or federal judges whose chambers are in the District of Columbia.
Lawsuits under Section Two are heard by local Federal District Court judges, like any other federal lawsuit.
Finally, there is a subtle but important difference in what counts as a discriminatory effect. Under Section Five, the baseline for analyzing the consequence of a proposed change is whether the jurisdiction can prove the change will not make minorities worse off than they were under the current rules.
Under Section Two, by contrast, the analysis starts fresh without any reference to the previous situation.
This difference can be significant in redistricting cases, where the Section Five standard makes it far simpler to argue that any map that reduces the number of districts where minority voters constitute a majority should be rejected.
Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit group that opposes affirmative action and joined another friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to overturn Section Five, argued that eliminating the Section Five standard in considering legislative district lines could be a good thing. He argued that its effect now is to coerce “racial gerrymandering” in drawing districts, which he said promoted polarization and was “inconsistent with the ideals of the civil rights movement.”
Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at the University of California, Irvine, law school, said he hoped the court upheld Section Five but believed that it would be struck down. Its mere existence, he said, has had a deterrent effect and “gives minority voters in covered jurisdictions a seat at the bargaining table” when election rules changes are proposed.
"If that seat is gone, the only thing minority voters will have to hang over elected officials’ heads is Section Two liability and constitutional liability, which are much tougher standards to win under,” he said. “But the most egregious things can still be challenged.”
************Protests mark Supreme Court’s hearing of challenges to Voting Rights Act
By David Ferguson
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 13:22 EST
Protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to mark the Court’s hearing of challenges to the Voting Rights Act. Raw Story spoke to Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Center of New York, who was on the scene Wednesday morning.
“We’re standing in front of the Supreme Court building waiting for the attorneys to come out,” said Sarsour. “There’s a pretty big rally here, I would say about 500 people.”
The crowd, she said, was startlingly diverse, made up of African-Americans, whites, Asians and Hispanics, as well as disability advocates and “a lot of elders and seniors, which is interesting. A lot of people talked about how there was a time when they couldn’t vote and now they’re here worrying that potentially this could be another time when they’re going to have to fight a fight they’ve already fought, back in the ’60s.”
In Wednesday’s case, an Alabama county is challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulates that states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls must consult the federal government before making changes to election law or procedures by way of a process known as “pre-clearance.” Alabama Republicans now argue that the law amounts to an infringement on the rights of whites.
During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
Nine states are boung by “pre-clearance” rules, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as some parts of other states.
Icons of the Civil Rights movement were on hand at Wednesday’s rally to speak and to encourage voting rights advocates. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), head of the Progressive caucus, spoke to the crowd, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson and MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton.
In spite of the seriousness of the threat to voting rights posed today, Sarsour described the mood of the rally, which began around 9:00 a.m. as “uplifting.” No one, she said, appeared to have come to the rally to oppose the VRA or to heckle its supporters.
“I don’t see any hecklers, yet,” she reported. “I was looking for them earlier because usually they’re around, but this particular rally, I’ve walked around it a couple of times and I haven’t seen any.”
Watch video of Rep. Grijalva’s speech, embedded below via YouTube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bqkV6qI4sVc
February 27, 2013Parties Focus on the Positive as Budget Cuts Draw Near
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — With time running short and little real effort under way to avert automatic budget cuts that take effect Friday, substantial and growing wings of both parties are learning to live with — if not love — the so-called sequester.
“It’s going to happen,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a leading conservative voice in the House. “It’s not the end of the world.”
For weeks, President Obama has barnstormed the country, warning of the dire consequences of the cuts to military readiness, educators, air travel and first responders even as the White House acknowledges that some of the disruptions will take weeks to emerge.
The reverse side has gone unmentioned: Some of the most liberal members of Congress see the cuts as a rare opportunity to whittle down Pentagon spending. The poor are already shielded from the worst of the cuts, and the process could take pressure off the Democratic Party, at least in the short run, to tamper with Social Security and Medicare.
At the same time, the president gets some relief from the constant drumbeat of budget news to focus on his top policy priorities: immigration and gun control.
And Republicans, while denouncing the level of military cuts and the ham-handedness of the budget scythe, finally see the government shrinking in real dollars.
“There are certainly many of us who realize we have got to get spending under control,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who served on the joint Congressional committee that was appointed to reach a deficit deal to avert the cuts but failed. “This is a crude way to do it, but at least it’s moving in that direction.”
The bipartisan talking point has held that the $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade, established in the 2011 Budget Control Act, were intended to be so onerous to both sides that they would force Republicans and Democrats to unite around a bipartisan, comprehensive deficit package that raised taxes and slowed entitlement spending.
In fact, almost the opposite has proved true. The sword of Damocles turns out to be made of Styrofoam.
“I don’t think it was effective,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and another member of the joint committee. “I said it at the time. I said it before the process. I said it after. We would have been better off without the sequester.”
Democrats involved in the negotiations were careful to make sure that the automatic spending cuts mostly exempted the disadvantaged. In back-room talks, Republicans pushed for a 4 percent cut to health care providers who serve Medicare patients. Democrats made it 2 percent, said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the joint panel.
Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California and another member, said his party was not about to let the automatic cuts hit health care, after the long fight over the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they would follow a template established by earlier deficit deals.
“The Democratic side fought very hard to make sure the most vulnerable would not be hit as hard as they usually are,” he said.
Republicans protected uniformed military personnel and made sure no cuts would fall on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Most important, they made sure that failure to reach a bipartisan deal would not set off automatic tax increases, a decision that may have made the automatic cuts inevitable, Republican negotiators now concede.
“It was a subject of conversation: ‘Hey look, you guys are pushing us on tax increases, and our backstop right behind us is something that involves no tax increases, all cuts,’ ” Mr. Portman recalled. “And the Democrats were saying, ‘Hey, you guys are pushing us on doing more on entitlements. Our backstop right behind us says it all comes out of one of your favorite areas, defense.’ ”
The exemptions agreed to in 2011 will significantly worsen the sting for unprotected programs, especially in the Defense Department, which will face programmatic cuts as deep as 13 percent in the next seven months. But they also eased political fears on the left and right flanks of the parties.
Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and a leader of the House’s Progressive Caucus, said cuts in military spending would force the Pentagon to modernize and finally rein in excesses in contracting.
And while populations with the weakest political voices will be protected, the biggest hits will fall on members of the Democratic coalition with more political weight who can fend for themselves: research universities, environmentalists and the like. The virtues of government may become clearer to the American people, Mr. Grijalva said.
“Suddenly, everyone’s going to find themselves in the same boat as that Head Start kid that’s waiting in line,” he said. “That’s a real opportunity.”
That is not the official line, especially for Democrats, who still say that the coming cuts will be widely destructive. Even some of the strongest liberals in Congress say the protections in the plan and the military cuts are not enough to justify the damage.
“While the Democrats may be winning the political battle, Republicans are winning the ideological war,” said Senator Bernard Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont. “The goal of the right wing is to essentially undo the Roosevelt era, the New Deal, substantially cut back on government, and in a sense, they are achieving that. This is a huge step.”
But some on the left have used it as a rallying cry. Twenty-one House Democrats have signed a letter saying that with the cuts in place, they will vote against “any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits” going forward. One House Democratic leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded this week that rallying the base against the cuts had been hampered by a left flank that has cheered them on.
Adam Green, a founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which organized the letter, said the military cuts, so focused on procurement, “could change the culture of defense contracting for decades to come.” He also said the coming cuts were already rallying the liberal base to hold the line on entitlements.
Representative Alan Grayson, a liberal Florida Democrat, agreed. “The sequester is going to raise the apparition again of the so-called grand bargain,” he said, referring to a deficit plan that raises taxes and cuts entitlements, “which isn’t grand and certainly isn’t a bargain.”
February 27, 2013House Republicans Clear Path for Renewal of Violence Against Women Act
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their own party and cleared a path for House passage on Thursday of the Senate’s bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night approved a bifurcated process to consider the legislation, which would broaden the landmark 1994 law. The House will vote on a Republican version on Thursday, which contains provisions that weaken a Senate version that empowers Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of violence on tribal land. The House version also does not extend the reach of domestic violence programs to those in same-sex relationships.
If that version fails to win passage, the House will take up the Senate-passed version — at this point the most likely outcome. That would ensure a swift White House signing ceremony.
The Senate passed that version this month, 78 to 22, with 23 Republicans voting yes, up from 15 last year.
House conservatives maintain that the Senate provision on tribal courts is a dangerous and unconstitutional expansion of tribal power, and they preferred to keep the bill silent on same-sex couples. But the pressure, especially on the tribal issue, was bipartisan. Republican Representatives Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, himself a Chickasaw, pressed hard to toughen the tribal courts language. Mr. Cole said Sunday he would try to bring the House bill down if he did not prevail.
Democrats are united against the Republican version, and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, has committed to passing a bipartisan version in the House or none at all.
Mr. Cole said Wednesday that House Republican leaders were in an impossible situation, with some conservatives likely to vote against even the watered-down House version and some moderates opposing the tribal and same-sex provisions. And, he said, “Democrats are united in opposition to the G.O.P. alternative, so these divisions make it exceptionally difficult to actually pass a bill.”
February 26, 2013Rape on the Reservation
By LOUISE ERDRICH
TWO Republicans running for Congressional seats last year offered opinions on “legitimate rape” or God-approved conceptions during rape, tainting their party with misogyny. Their candidacies tanked. Words matter.
Having lost the votes of many women, Republicans now have the chance to recover some trust. The Senate last week voted resoundingly to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that recognized crimes like rape, domestic abuse and stalking as matters of human rights.
But House Republicans, who are scheduled to take up the bill today and vote on it Thursday, have objected to provisions that would enhance protections for American Indians, undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, among other vulnerable populations.
Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.
The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape. Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.
To protect Native women, tribal authorities must be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists — regardless of race. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”
Leaving aside the fact that most Native defendants tried in the United States face Indian-free juries, and disregarding the fulsome notion that Native people can’t be impartial jurists, Mr. Grassley got his facts wrong. Most reservations have substantial non-Indian populations, and Native families are often mixed. The Senate version guarantees non-Indians the right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.
Tribal judges know they must make impeccable decisions. They know that they are being watched closely and must defend their hard-won jurisdiction. Our courts and lawyers cherish every tool given by Congress. Nobody wants to blow it by convicting a non-Indian without overwhelming, unshakable evidence.
Since 1990, when Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator from Delaware, drafted the original legislation, the Violence Against Women Act has been parsed and pored over. During reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, language on date rape and orders of protection was added. With each iteration, the act has become more effective, inclusive and powerful. Without it, the idea that some rape is “legitimate” could easily have been shrugged off by the electorate.
Some House Republicans maintain that Congress lacks the authority to subject non-Indians to criminal trials in tribal court, even though a Supreme Court opinion from 2004 suggests otherwise. Their version of the bill, as put forward by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, would add further twists to the dead-end maze Native American women walk when confronting sexual violence. John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said it would create “more off ramps for defendants by adding multiple levels of removal and appeal, including the right to sue tribes.” A compromise backed by two other Republicans, Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, is vastly preferable to the Cantor version. It would offer a non-Indian defendant the right to request removal of his case to a federal court if his rights were violated.
What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.
If our hearts are on the ground, our country has failed us all. If we are safe, our country is safer. When the women in red shawls dance, they move with slow dignity, swaying gently, all ages, faces soft and eyes determined. Others join them, shaking hands to honor what they know, sharing it. We dance behind them and with them in the circle, often in tears, because at every gathering the red shawls increase, and the violence cuts deep.
Louise Erdrich is the author, most recently, of “The Round House.”
February 27, 2013Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
LOS ANGELES — In the caverns of her memory, Tiffany Jackson recalls the job she held, fleetingly, after leaving the military, when she still wore stylish flats and blouses with butterfly collars and worked in a high-rise with a million-dollar view.
Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here.
“You feel helpless to stop it,” she said of the cascade of events in which she went from having her own apartment to sleeping in seedy hotels and then, for a year, in the streets, where she joined the growing ranks of homeless female veterans.
Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.
While male returnees become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, experts say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women, researchers and psychologists said, is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sexual trauma set Ms. Jackson on her path. At first she thought she could put “the incident” behind her: that cool August evening outside Suwon Air Base in South Korea when, she said, a serviceman grabbed her by the throat in the ladies’ room of a bar and savagely raped her on the urine-soaked floor. But during the seven years she drifted in and out of homelessness, she found she could not forget.
Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.
But female veterans also face a complex “web of vulnerability,” said Dr. Donna L. Washington, a professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. and a physician at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center, who has studied the ways the women become homeless, including poverty and military sexual trauma.
Female veterans are far more likely to be single parents than men. Yet more than 60 percent of transitional housing programs receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs did not accept children, or restricted their age and number, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.
The lack of jobs for female veterans also contributes to homelessness. Jennifer Cortez, 26, who excelled as an Army sergeant, training and mentoring other soldiers, has had difficulty finding work since leaving active duty in 2011. She wakes up on an air mattress on her mother’s living room floor, beneath the 12 medals she garnered in eight years, including two tours in Iraq. Job listings at minimum wage leave her feeling bewildered. “You think, wow, really?” she said. “I served my country. So sweeping the floor is kind of hard.”
Not wanting to burden her family, she has lived briefly in her car, the only personal space she has.
Some homeless veterans marshal boot-camp survival skills, like Nancy Mitchell, of Missouri, 53, an Army veteran who spent years, off and on, living in a tent.
“That’s how we done it in basic,” she said.
Double Betrayal of Assault
Of more than two dozen female veterans interviewed by The New York Times, 16 said that they had been sexually assaulted in the service, and another said that she had been stalked. A study by Dr. Washington and colleagues found that 53 percent of homeless female veterans had experienced military sexual trauma, and that many women entered the military to escape family conflict and abuse.
For those hoping to better their lives, being sexually assaulted while serving their country is “a double betrayal of trust,” said Lori S. Katz, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System and co-founder of Renew, an innovative treatment program for female veterans with M.S.T. Reverberations from such experiences often set off a downward spiral for women into alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence, she added.
“It just pulls the skin off you,” said Patricia Goodman-Allen, a therapist in North Carolina and former Army Reserve officer who said she once retreated to a mobile home deep in the woods after such an assault.
Ms. Jackson won full disability compensation for post-traumatic stress as a disabling aftermath of her sexual trauma, although she was at first denied military benefits.
She grew up in a tough section of Compton, Calif., and served as a heavy equipment operator in the Army, exhilarated by her sense of mastery in a male-dominated environment. But after the rape — which she kept to herself, not even telling her family — her behavior changed. She assaulted a sergeant, resulting in disciplinary actions. Back home, she lost her job in sales after she passed out, drunk, during a business phone call. “It looked like I really had my stuff together,” she said. “But I was dying inside.”
She served three years in prison for drug dealing and finally confided in a prison psychiatrist, who helped her see that many of her bad decisions had been rooted in the sexual trauma.
“I realized I needed help,” she says today, stable finally at 32 and snug in her mother’s home in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. “But to me breaking down was soft.”
Her lawyer, Melissa Tyner, with the nonprofit Inner City Law Center here, said that many female veterans, like Ms. Jackson, associate the V.A. with a military that failed to protect them and thus forgo needed therapy. Other women who did not serve overseas said they did not realize they were veterans. “This makes them much less stable and therefore less likely to be housed,” she said.
California, home to a quarter of the nation’s veterans, is also home to a quarter of its homeless veterans. In Greater Los Angeles, a 2011 survey found 909 homeless women among them, a 50 percent increase since 2009.
Lauren Felber was one. Her decision to enter the military was a self-preservation instinct: she said she was molested by her father throughout her youth. “He’s dead now,” she said curtly. She thought the Army would make her strong.
When Ms. Felber returned, a debilitating complication from shingles made attempts to work, including bartending and construction jobs, painful. She became addicted to painkillers including methadone. Her welcome staying on friends’ couches ran out, and she headed to Pershing Square, in downtown Los Angeles, resplendent with fountains and soaring palms. She slept on the steps. Sidewalk habitués schooled her on the ins and outs of free food. “On the street, everyone’s hustling, selling something, even if it’s friendship,” she said.
Ms. Felber spent seven months in Rotary House, a shelter run by Volunteers of America. In her journal she wrote, “I walk the streets of Skid Row and see myself in the faces of the obsolete.”
But life is finally on the upswing: she recently moved into an apartment through a program that provides permanent housing and other services, called Housing and Urban Development — Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, or HUD-Vash. Having a place of her own, Ms. Felber said, felt so unreal that she piled blankets and slept on the floor, as she had on the streets. But gradually, walking around the bare rooms, she felt “an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude.”
“I am fighting the fear of losing it,” she added, “while I place each new item, making it a home.”
Returning veterans face a Catch-22: Congress authorized the V.A. to take care of them, but not their families. Women wait an average of four months to secure stable housing, leaving those with children at higher risk for homelessness. Monica Figueroa, 22, a former Army parachutist, lived in a family member’s auto body shop in the Los Angeles area, bathing her baby, Alexander, in a sink used for oil and solvents until, with help, they found temporary housing.
Michelle Mathis, 30, a single mother of three, has bounced among seven temporary places since returning home in 2005 with a traumatic brain injury. Ms. Mathis, who served as a chemical specialist in Iraq, relies on a GPS device to help her remember the way to the grocery store and her children’s school.
She said she did not feel safe in a shelter with her children, so they live in a room rented from a friend who is herself facing eviction. The only place Ms. Mathis said she truly felt at home was with fellow veterans at the V.A. medical center. Because she cannot afford child care, she sees her doctors with her year-old son Makai in tow.
Transitional housing has traditionally been in dormitory settings, which worked when returnees were mostly single men. But a March 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found bedrooms and bathrooms without locks.
Dr. Susan Angell, the executive director for Veterans Homeless Initiatives for the V.A., said that each site was individual and required a different approach, whether it meant putting up walls or installing card readers to beef up security. “There is no blanket solution,” she said. “It has to fit the environment. We really want the best and safest environment for any veteran that comes to us for care.”
Pledging to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the government is pouring millions of dollars into permanent voucher programs, like HUD-Vash, for the most chronically homeless veterans. Thirteen percent of those receiving vouchers are women, nearly a third of them with children, Dr. Angell said.
A newer V.A. program, with $300 million allocated by Congress, is aimed at prevention, providing short-term emergency money to help with down payments, utility bills and other issues. The government’s motivation is financial as well as patriotic: the V.A. estimates that the cost of care for a homeless veteran, including hospitalizations and reimbursement for community-based shelters, is three times greater than for a housed veteran. A pilot project providing free drop-in child care is under way at three V.A. medical centers.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation that would reimburse for child care in transitional housing for the first time.
An Emotional Battalion
But change in Washington can be glacial. And a sturdy roof is not always enough. On the outskirts of Long Beach, Calif., a national nonprofit group, U.S. Vets, created living quarters for at-risk families at Villages at Cabrillo, former naval housing, with a special program for homeless female veterans.
But the directors soon grew perplexed by the large number of women who were struggling to make it on their own.
“We began to understand that so many of them suffered from sexual trauma,” said Steve Peck, the group’s president and chief executive. “Their inability to cope with those feelings made it impossible for them to put one foot in front of the other.”
The result was Renew, a collaboration with the V.A.’s Long Beach center. It incorporates psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga, and it accepts women who have been screened for military sexual trauma. Each class of a dozen women lives together for 12 weeks while spending eight-hour days at a women’s mental health clinic, “where you can cry and not have to encounter a bunch of men with your mascara running,” as Dr. Katz put it.
With Dr. Katz and other guides, the women formed an emotional battalion, squaring off against unseen enemies: fear, loneliness, distrust, anger and, most insidious of all, the hardened heart.
At the program’s graduation in December, held in a therapy room, nine women spoke movingly of choosing strength over fragility. Cindi, an officer in the Air Force with a master’s degree, said she had been bullied and ostracized by a female superior. After leaving the military, she had tumbled into a violent marriage and did not want her last name used for her own safety. She had been couch-surfing for a while.
She grew up in a household brimming with neglect. In her workbook, Cindi drew an image of water boiling on a stove, representing her traumas, more powerful than her self-regard.
After years of disappointment, Cindi was finally ready to forge new ground.
“I am more than the sum of my experiences,” she read from her journal, seeming to evoke the story of every homeless veteran sister. “I am more than my past.”