War and after

Law student

Ashley Anderson ’16JD, student at Yale Law School.

Age: 32.
Hometown: Frankfort, Illinois.

Air Force, 2006–2013. Deployed to Iraq in 2009 for eight months and to Kuwait during 2010–2011 for eight months.

A less-than-honorable military discharge “can haunt you for life,” says former Air Force captain Ashley Anderson. She has seen it happen to her clients: as an intern at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, Anderson has helped three veterans to upgrade their discharges, and she is working with two more.

Of the five forms of military discharge, anything below honorable exacts costs. A veteran may lose health and education benefits. Potential employers may ask to inspect discharge papers. “And then there’s just the stigma of it, which I think can really affect people,” says Anderson, a third-year law student at Yale who served as an intelligence officer. She can’t discuss her clients’ cases, but she can relay what she heard from a friend in the Marines: a young Marine who had served both in Iraq and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He self-medicated using an illegal drug. He got caught, and when the Marines gave him a bad-conduct discharge, he lost his ability to get psychiatric care from the Veterans Administration.

“Here’s this guy who is screwed up because of his service, but who gets nothing,” says Anderson. “It’s that sort of thing that bothers me.”

Anderson chose the Air Force because, when she signed up in 2006, it offered women more opportunities than did the other branches. Still, women were few. On one base in Iraq, the numbers seemed like 20 women to 1,000 men. “You walk into a cafeteria full of men, mainly 18 to 28, who are in the middle of the desert and have been there for a year,” she recalls. “Everywhere you go, you’re being watched. You hear a lot of comments.” Mostly she felt safe, she says, but she suspects that as an officer, she had protection that enlisted women lacked.

In May 2015, Anderson and Elizabeth Deutsch ’16JD wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about gender discrimination at the three academies: West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy. They noted that the Defense Department’s own surveys indicate that 8 percent of women at the academies were sexually assaulted in 2014, and nine out of ten had faced some form of sexism or discrimination. Yet Title IX legal protections against gender discrimination do not apply at service academies. Women (and men) who face gender discrimination, or worse, have no effective legal redress if their superiors don’t take complaints seriously. On behalf of one of their clients, Anderson and Deutsch advocated a presidential executive order that would establish channels for reporting violations.

Next year, Anderson will clerk for federal Court of Appeals judge Diane Wood in Chicago. After that, she plans to work at, or establish, an organization that helps veterans. “It’s not glamorous work at all, but there is so much of it to be done,” she says. “And you can make a huge difference in somebody’s life.”