A Marine general's decision not to suspend Cpl. Thae Ohu's bad conduct discharge could jeopardize her mental health care, despite a diagnosis that led a judge to recommend the suspension earlier this year.
Ohu was the subject of a complicated and high-profile assault case in which the man she attempted to stab in April 2020, her then-boyfriend, had called on the Corps not to punish her, but to help her get treatment for issues stemming from a rape she reported years earlier in Japan.
Advocates highlighted it as emblematic of the military's mishandling of sexual assault and mental health issues.
"This whole situation has been disparaging towards my service, my assault, my care and now my future," Ohu said in a statement issued on the website justiceforThaeOhu.com Thursday. "I still cannot fathom the contemptuous behavior of the Corps towards me from the moment I reported, along the way when I sought care and now a final infliction to hinder my care post service."
Maj. Gen. Julian D. Alford, commanding general of Marine Corps Training Command, suspended any brig time beyond Ohu's 328 days of "time served" before trial, the service said in a statement. But he imposed the remainder of the sentence, including reduction to private and the discharge, "as adjudged without suspension."
Ohu was released in May from the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Va., after pleading guilty to several charges, including aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, which stemmed from the 2020 attack. Both she and the victim have said the attack came during a mental breakdown.
Ohu's case made headlines last year after her family called on the Marine Corps to release her into mental health treatment. It was one of a series of cases that gained widespread attention in the wake of the killing and disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, and as lawmakers pushed for reform to the military's handling of sexual assault cases.
Ohu's victim, Michael Hinesley, never wanted the service to prosecute her, he wrote in a statement to the court earlier this year.
"It is like you are leaving a wounded Marine on the battlefield" if she were convicted, he wrote.
Judge Lt. Col. Michael Zimmerman cited her mental health history in recommending Alford hold off on the punitive discharge for a probationary period.
Ohu was born in a refugee camp and had a difficult upbringing, with a history of mental illness before joining the service. She began having mental health challenges after arriving at her first duty station in Japan in 2014, the nonprofit investigative news site The War Horse reported.
A counselor she saw there recommended to two senior Marines that she be separated, calling her "an accident waiting to happen," one of those Marines, Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bates, told the news site.
But Bates felt that she just needed to talk to someone and seemed to be a "squared-away Marine" after doing so.
Hinesley said her condition worsened after another Marine raped her in Okinawa in 2015, and that locking her up for assaulting him "stripped away" any progress she'd made in treatment. Her advocates say she suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues after the rape.
During the April 2020 attack on Hinesley, she'd initially grabbed the knife with suicidal intentions, but then confused her boyfriend for the man who raped her in Okinawa. She became enraged, she said in court testimony reported by Marine Corps Times.
A bad conduct discharge would make her ineligible for guaranteed veteran benefits. Her attorneys had sought a medical discharge instead that would have allowed her to seek treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A veteran with a "bad paper" discharge may only qualify for VA benefits under certain circumstances, after an agency determination about specifics of their case, the VA website states.
Under a suspended sentence, the bad conduct discharge would be canceled if Ohu didn't violate conditions Alford would have set.
But the general approved the discharge without suspension "based on the totality of the circumstances of the case," he wrote in a letter to the VA, Marine Corps Times reported.
Her conviction "should not prevent her from receiving necessary treatment" from the VA, Alford wrote.
Ohu's case is being reviewed by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals and her discharge will not be complete until the review is finalized, Marine spokesman Capt. Sam Stephenson told Task and Purpose.
The bad conduct discharge likely won't affect Ohu's access to VA health care because she received an honorable discharge for a prior four-year period, and because of the agency review process, said Sherman Gillums, Jr., a retired Marine chief warrant officer 2 who has worked in veterans advocacy for many years and is in regular contact with Ohu.
But her care could be hampered while she remains in the "administrative nightmare" of the legal process awaiting discharge, said Gillums, now chief strategy and operations officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She may face obstacles with Tricare and within the military bureaucracy she would not face on the outside, he said.
Ohu described her feelings Thursday as "overwhelmed and worried, I dare say discouraged" and said she was "failed physically, morally, and ethically" after seeking care and reporting the 2015 rape.
"This is not justice," she said in the statement, but she said she could say little more for the time being.
Ohu's sister Pan Phyu, one of her most vocal advocates, has pledged to continue fighting.
"It'll be a cold day in hell until I stop asking for #JusticeForThaeOhu," she wrote Thursday on Facebook.