“Never did I think
I would win”
– Heath Phillips
In 1989, 17-year-old Heath Phillips was a fresh-faced Naval recruit, eager to serve his country. Once on his assigned ship, however, he was sexually and physically assaulted by a group of six other sailors. Despite repeated reports to his superiors, Heath was given no support or chance to transfer. After 48 days of unending assault, he escaped – only to be arrested, returned, and assaulted again. Four more times, Heath ran away only to be returned to his attackers. Heath went AWOL one final time, beginning nearly two decades of alcohol abuse and PTSD, with no support from Veterans Affairs.
After nearly ending his life, Heath got sober. Unlike many survivors of sexual violence, he began to tell his story publicly. Advocating for survivors became his mission.
Three times he applied to have his discharge status upgraded, so he could access the life-saving services he desperately needed; three times, the Navy denied him. That’s when Heath became a client of our Veteran Advocacy Project, who worked with him for years on a fourth application, and finally convinced the Navy that he deserved an honorable discharge. Thanks to Heath’s persistence (and the assistance of our lawyers and advocates), justice was finally served.