July 15, 2012

Bill Nemitz: A Mainer testifies for all with invisible wounds

It's been just over a year since Ruth Moore went public -- sort of -- with her story.

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Ruth Moore is shown outside her home in Milbridge. This week, she will tell the House Committee on Veterans Affairs what happened on a naval base in the Azores 25 years ago.

Courtesy photo

She told WCSH-TV reporter Kathleen Shannon how she'd been raped twice while serving in the U.S. Navy. But she did so on the condition that the station change her name, black out her face and disguise her voice.

No longer.

"I want to be there for other women and men so they know there can be a good outcome from this," Ruth, 43, said Friday as a rooster crowed outside her rural home in the Down East town of Milbridge. "I know my testimony is important."

On Tuesday, Ruth, her husband, Butch, and their 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, will make the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the Portland International Jetport. From there, they'll fly another hour to Washington, D.C.

Then on Wednesday, they'll head for Capitol Hill, where Ruth will take a deep breath, sit down in front of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and, at long last, set the record straight on what happened to her on a naval base in the Azores 25 long year ago.

The hearing is titled "Invisible Wounds: Examining the Disability Compensation Process for Victims of Military Sexual Trauma." That process, for a big chunk of Ruth's troubled life, was actually one of denial.

She was 18 at the time.

She'd grown up in nearby Pembroke and enlisted in the Navy during her senior year at Washington Academy in Machias because her family couldn't afford college -- they were so poor that the local game warden would quietly drop off the carcasses of poached deer. The military was Ruth's only ticket to higher education and a better life.

Or so she thought. Two months after Ruth arrived at the Azores fresh out of boot camp and training as an apprentice aerographer's mate, her immediate supervisor, a petty officer, raped her outside a local club. At the same time, he infected her with the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.

"I made a complaint to the chaplain," Ruth recalled. "And nothing was done -- except I was raped again (by the same officer) in retaliation."

Stuck on the other side of the Atlantic, alone, traumatized and terrified of what might happen next, Ruth eventually swallowed a handful of acetaminophen and ibuprofen pills in an attempt to kill herself.

When that failed, she went back to the chaplain. "If you don't get me the hell off this island," she told him, "I will swim off this island. And you won't know and they won't find me."

The next thing Ruth knew, she was in the psychiatric unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Her diagnosis: borderline personality disorder.

Her attacker was neither charged nor disciplined.

"I wasn't crazy. I never was crazy," Ruth said. "They put me on a ward with people who were absolutely certifiable. They had people with severe schizophrenia. They had people with what appeared to be bipolar disorder. They had me with people who were little higher than a vegetative state."

And a few months later, they had Ruth gone. She was honorably discharged -- but only after Navy officials pinned the "borderline personality disorder" label to her permanent record and persuaded her to waive all claims against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ruth had married another sailor just before deployment -- he too was from Washington County. All of her health-care needs, the Navy assured her, would be covered through him.

"I didn't know what was going on," Ruth said.

The rapes, the stigma of a mental illness that in fact didn't exist, the dream so traumatically derailed -- it all stayed with Ruth. Her sexually transmitted disease led to chronic gynecological problems -- she blames the chlamydia for nine miscarriages she suffered during the 1990s.

(Continued on page 2)

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