After reporting her sexual assault, a now-retired lieutenant colonel with the West Virginia Army National Guard was retaliated against by a brigadier general, the Defense Department's inspector general said in a new report.
This is the first time the DoD IG has ever substantiated an allegation of reprisal for reporting a sexual assault, the IG's office confirmed to Military Times.
Army Brig. Gen. Charles Veit, the assistant adjutant general for the West Virginia Guard, retaliated against Army Lt. Col. Teresa James, a former commander of the 151st Military Police Battalion who deployed to Anbar Province, Iraq, by issuing her an unfavorable officer evaluation report, the IG said in a whistleblower reprisal investigation dated April 19. It was a referred performance report, which can sometimes be a career-killer and lead to service members being separated. James provided the report to Military Times.
The IG recommended that the secretary of the Army, now Eric Fanning, "take appropriate action against BG Veit for reprising against" James.
Lt. Col. Teresa James
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lt. Col. Teresa James
The IG also recommended the Army remove the negative performance report from her official personnel file, give her an appropriate military service award for her time as commander of the 151st, and convene a special selection board to decide whether she should be promoted to colonel.
However, the IG did not substantiate all of James' allegations. Investigator said her referrals to mental health and medical evaluation boards was not an act of reprisal. Neither was a decision to deny her a Meritorious Service Medal for her time commanding the 151st.
In a May 17 interview, James expressed some relief at the IG's conclusion and said it helped ease "that sense of betrayal that I felt when I knew I was being reprised against, and nobody had my back."
The West Virginia National Guard declined comment and said Veit also declined to comment for this story.
"Once the process is complete, the Army will determine what further action, if any, needs to be taken based on the investigation results, and will release those findings in accordance with applicable laws and regulations," the spokesman said.
When Military Times wrote about James' case in May 2015, the West Virginia National Guard issued a statement strongly denying James was retaliated against, and that it immediately acted to report her assault to the proper authorities.
"West Virginia National Guard is adamant that there were no adverse actions taken against LTC Teresa James as an officer or as a commander as a result of her report of sexual assault," the guard said last year.
James' sexual assault allegations were substantiated in a National Guard investigation completed in 2013. Investigators said they found her "very credible" and that she provided documentation, witnesses and medical records that were consistent with her version of events.
James said she was assaulted by a senior officer while on a temporary duty assignment in 2006, and reported it in 2012. The investigation report said the delay in her reporting "is both understandable and common" due to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
The Army's Criminal Investigation Division decided it didn't have jurisdiction over the case and turned it over to civilian prosecutors, who weren't able to collect enough evidence to move forward before the statute of limitations expired. James' alleged perpetrator was forced to retire from the Guard.
Up until that point, James said, she had received "good to excellent" evaluations throughout her career. The National Guard's 2013 investigation into her assault allegations substantiated that claim.
But in November 2012, Veit gave James what she called "the worst [performance] report I had ever gotten in my life."
Veit told investigators that he marked James down due to her alleged lack of judgment and leniency when punishing soldiers under her command. But investigators disputed those claims, saying that Veit didn't document any concerns about James' leadership he might have had at the time. Investigators also said James should not have been held responsible for some of the alleged problems Veit had with her leadership.
And the IG concluded Veit had motive to reprise against James because her sexual assault allegations brought to light his "apparent favoritism" and preferential treatment shown to James' alleged attacker.
IG investigators found Veit ignored a previous investigation that concluded James' alleged attacker engaged in repeated sexual harassment.
Veit knew about the previous investigation against James' alleged attacker that concluded he had "berated, belittled, and engaged in acts of hostility, used gender epithets, physically assaulted three other service members, and may have treated female soldiers disparately," the report said. But Veit ignored those substantiated findings of misconduct, and failed to document them in the attacker's performance review as required by Army regulations.
"BG Veit's [performance evaluation] comments were devoid of a single reference to the substantiated misconduct and instead contained favorable comments and an 'Outstanding Performance-Must Promote' characterization," according to the report. "Comparing the [reviews] BG Veit gave [James] and [her alleged attacker] reflects his disparate treatment of her."
James had to take a medical retirement last July after 35 years in the Guard.
Sara Darehshori, senior counsel for the group Human Rights Watch, called the IG's recommendations and finding of reprisal — especially coming against a general officer — "an important decision."
"This is a remarkable case," Darehshori said. "What I hope it says is that the DoD IG is on notice, that they are taking a more active interest in aggressively pursuing claims of reprisal stemming from reporting sexual assault or sexual harassment."
James is now pursuing a discrimination complaint based on gender with the Army's IG.
She said it's been "a very long, hard road" over the years to get the Defense IG to substantiate her claims of reprisal. But she hopes her case encourages other service members who have experienced reprisal to keep going.
"I would like to see a survivor know that there is light at the end of the tunnel," James said. "Our system can work."
Army Times reporter Michelle Tan contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey covers personnel, promotions, and the Air Force Academy for Air Force Times, a sister publication of Army Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.