An outspoken Marine veteran has spoken out after his college has labeled him a ‘threat to himself and other students’. The label comes from his request that due to combat related PTSD, he would like a Non-Muslim counselor. All this comes mere months after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pledged to improve its treatment of veterans – and Jeremy Rawls is hoping that his college might also be willing to the same.
In an exclusive interview with Campus Reform, the former active-duty Marine who served two combat tours in Iraq said his suspension came after he requested to meet with a different counselor in the school’s Office of Counseling and Disability Services. Rawls, who is diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was originally paired with a female counselor who wore traditional Muslim dress during his initial visit to the office.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to participate… I didn’t want to traumatize her and it wasn’t a good environment to be talking about [my disabilities] with that specific person,” Rawls said.
Rawls’s original reason for visiting the school’s counseling office was to pick up paperwork intended for his professors, a task that had been delayed because of a lengthy recovery from knee surgery.
“Every semester I have to identify with the school as disabled and they give me letters to give to my professors,” Rawls explained. “This semester I had a surgery at the beginning which caused some issues in getting some letters.”
According to Rawls, his attempts to meet with staff members to discuss the school’s policy about changing counselors were repeatedly ignored and it wasn’t until a recent meeting with administrators that he was able to speak with staff.
“Their response was suspending me pending a mental evaluation which I provided and then they put me on further restriction and a reintegration program,” Rawls said.
In an email notifying Rawls of his suspension, Associate Dean of Students Jonathan Ambrose said administrators and the Student Intervention Team have a “due diligence in not only the protection of yourself, but also the campus community as a whole from potential harm or the threat there of.”
“You are not permitted to be on campus for any reason or attend class during the duration of the Interim Suspension unless you have written permission,” states an email sent to Rawls on Feb. 26 and later obtained by Campus Reform.
“To have been a marine and to tell us we’re a threat…that’s actually a compliment,” said Rawls. “But telling me I’m a threat to others was extremely offensive.”
According to Rawls, who is pursuing a degree in English with a minor in education, the school never spoke with “a single professor” about his grades or behavior prior to suspending and subsequently removing him from a work-study position which he’d procured through the local VA.
On March 16, Rawls was notified of his permission to reintegrate back into academics after fulfilling the school’s request for an independent mental evaluation.
“At this time, you are only allowed integration back into academics, meaning: attending class, lectures, or any other academic related matter that is pertinent to a class or graded assignment,” Ambrose wrote in a second email to the student veteran.
In addition to a provision restricting Rawls from attending on-campus events or participating in student organizations, the school’s Integration Action Plan required that he “show ability to handle [his] academic course load” and “demonstrate regular attendance in mental health therapy at a licensed therapist” of his choice.
“The college itself is very supportive, there is just an ignorance toward veterans with PTSD and they are demonized so much by the media which led to confusion about what they [MC administrators] were dealing with,” Rawls said.
According to Rawls, the university also requested that he provide access to his medical records to the very counseling department where he encountered the original problem.
After successfully filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Rawls began seeking legal representation—a task he says has been more difficult than anticipated.
“Lawyers generally see veterans as an issue,” Rawls explained, adding that “every single one has told me ‘Yes, this is an issue,’ but they don’t do civil rights law or they’re not in the right location or they’re too busy.”
“I’ve been given every excuse imaginable,” Rawls said.
Last Thursday, Rawls met with administrators in an effort to begin resolving the matter and to ensure that he is able to fully participate in academics and extracurricular activities in the coming school year.
“They asked me what I wanted and I told them I want to be a normal student and I want my job back,” Rawls said.
In addition to serving in the Marine Corps, Rawls worked as a private contractor in Afghanistan and was a member of the Army National Guard for seven years. He was on active-duty in Iraq during the Second Battle of Fallujah—named the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War—and says he’s lost many friends to suicide due to PTSD.
The committed student and proud veteran believes his school’s actions reflect the need for “cultural change.”
“If they’ll do this to me, and I’m one of the most outspoken veterans on campus, they’ll definitely do this to others,” Rawls said.
According to Rawls, friends of his who are familiar with the situation—namely fellow student veterans—are deeply offended by MC’s conduct.
“They believe that if they had an altercation, they are automatically going to be seen as the aggressor now or that because they have PTSD, they are going to be viewed as unstable,” Rawls said.
Although Rawls “doesn’t really see a long-term solution to this,” he remains dedicated to his academics and intends to graduate from MC next spring.
“I still wish to go to MC and I know the vast majority is conservative and veteran-friendly, I guess this issue has slipped through the cracks,” Rawls said.
So basically, the school is not following the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states, ‘prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.’ His issue is not one that threatens others, it was a simple request that could have been handled quietly by the school, instead of being turned into an issue of race. This is a veteran that has served his country in a way that most have not, and came away with a disability that is real. MC should be bending over backwards to make sure that his requests to accommodate the needs of his disability, just as they would be installing a wheelchair ramp if his disability required one to access his education.
H/T: Campus Reform
Written by Katie McGuire. Follow Katie on Twitter @GOPKatie, on Facebook, or email the author at [email protected]