To date, 22 million Americans have served in the military. Many of them see the trauma of war. A few experience a different kind of horror — at the hands of fellow service members. One of them was Paul Casey.
Casey recalls what prompted him to join the military. It was heartbreak. He'd just broken up with his fiancé when he met a Navy recruiter at UC Riverside.
“They make a lot of promises and paint the future really bright," Casey said. "So I thought I’d give it a try, give it a whirl.”
Casey, who'd studied pre-med, became a medical corpsman. The Naval hospital in Bremerton, Washington, was his first assignment. He said the command master chief called him and another sailor into his office.
"In the beginning I thought that was kind of cool that somebody with that much power and that much prestige would pay attention to me,” Casey said.
It was 1984. Casey, who was 25 years old at the time, ate up the attention. Looking back, he said, it made sense.
“I had a very abusive father when I was growing up. In fact I moved out of my home when I was 15 years old because I couldn’t tolerate the abuse any more," Casey said. “Then I found myself in the Navy with this gentleman, I thought a mentor, somebody who’s going to show me the ropes, teach me what was expected to be a man."
The command master chief is the most senior enlisted sailor in a United States Navy unit. As Casey garnered more of his attention, others began to call him the master chief’s “boy.”
“At the time, I really didn’t understand what everybody else saw until I started getting a lot of unwanted sexual attention." Casey pauses. "I really don’t even want to discuss some of the things that went on.”
He said the command master chief sexually assaulted him.
The Pentagon’s own statistics indicate that military sexual trauma (MST), including assaults and harassment, is a serious problem. Women experience it more than men.
Studies say as many as one in three servicewomen suffer military sexual trauma. But it happens to as many as one in four men too.
Like people who suffer trauma from bomb blasts and seeing friends killed, military sexual trauma victims often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most victims never report it. They do what Casey did — bury it.
“You feel so small, you feel like nobody really cares," Casey said. "And if you do ask for help — what about the ramifications, and the name-calling, and the innuendos."
Casey asked, "Who’s going to believe me anyways? I’m just a peon sailor. And here’s God," Casey said, referring to the command master chief.
Casey, who is not gay, also said that back in those days, the rule wasn’t “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Homosexual behavior in the military was criminal.
He kept his secret, and in the months and years that followed, Casey suffered excruciating migraine headaches and digestion problems. He began drinking a lot.
Casey left the military in 1994 and became a registered nurse at Loma Linda University and Desert Hospital in Palm Springs. He worked some of the toughest shifts, in the emergency room and neonatal intensive care.
“I thought I was the bee’s knees... I got this handled.”
He had help — from Vicodin and other prescription painkillers.
“You find this wonderful little white pill that you can pop in your mouth with a cup of coffee and you’re normal again. You’re OK,” Casey said.
But he wasn’t OK. Relationships failed. Co-workers noticed he was using drugs. He quit nursing, and started a small construction business.
As the recession hit, work dried up. So did the money.
“You run out of friends with couches," he said. People are "tired of feeling sorry for you."
Earlier this year, Casey, now 52 years old, ended up in building 206 at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs complex. That’s where homeless veterans can get help.
Casey had seen VA counselors before. "There’s always this one question. And I’ve heard it before," he said. "Have you ever experienced sexual trauma while in the military? I always say 'No. no, no, no, no.'”
This time, he told the counselor yes.