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Sex Assault at Walter Reed Georgia Guardsman was One of at Least Three Victims at Troubled Hospital (mentions effects from AVA)

Sex assault at Walter Reed: Georgia Guardsman was one of at least three victims at troubled army hospital.
By Ron Martz
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In the spring of 2004, Cpl. Matt Burgess of Dallas was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for a series of tests to determine what was causing him to vomit nearly a dozen times a day, stop breathing while he slept and suffer excruciating pain in his joints.

The Georgia Army National Guard soldier already felt victimized. He said the Army medical system questioned his honesty and integrity, telling him his problems were of his own making after he became ill in Iraq. Then after 2 1/2 years on medical hold, doctors diagnosed his numerous health problems that now require him to take 21 pills a day and sleep with a special breathing machine, all the result of a series of mandatory anthrax shots he was given in 2003.
While at Walter Reed, Burgess was victimized again.

According to federal court documents, Burgess was one of at least three Walter Reed patients who were sexually abused that spring by a civilian medical technician who had a history of sexual molestations.

The incidents are the latest in a series of revelations of substandard conditions at the Army's premier medical center that have prompted congressional investigations, promises from President Bush to rectify the problems and resulted in the firing or resignation of several high-level generals and the Secretary of the Army.

Walter Reed officials did not respond to telephone messages and repeated calls for comment.
Although The Atlanta Journal-Constitution generally does not identify the victims of sexual abuse, Burgess and his wife, Robyn, agreed to talk about the Walter Reed incident "so future soldiers won't have to go through what I have. It's disheartening," Matt Burgess, 34, said in a lengthy interview this week.

"By speaking out," he added, "I hope to be able to turn this into a positive experience."
Burgess was sent to Walter Reed for a two-day sleep test in April 2004 to help doctors determine the cause of his breathing problems.

On April 21, while Burgess was under the influence of Ambien, used to treat insomnia, he was sexually abused by Mario Echeverri, a civilian technician, according to federal court documents.
"When the incident happened, I was mentally there but I felt powerless to stop it physically," Burgess said.

He said he was traumatized about what happened, and he filed a complaint with Walter Reed officials that day. He stayed at the hospital for the second night of tests, but was given a different technician.

When investigators were called in by Walter Reed officials, it was discovered that the incident involving Burgess and two others had been captured on videotape.

Echeverri "was evidently dismissed from a prior job as a sleep technician for touching a patient in a sexual manner" and had previously pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct "as a result of him fondling the genitalia of a law enforcement officer," federal prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Echeverri pleaded guilty in February 2005 to one count of sexual abuse.

He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and two years of supervised probation, but served only 75 days, said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. Echeverri is now a registered sex offender in the District of Columbia.

"We agreed not to prosecute him on the other two cases for the plea on the [Burgess] charge," Phillips said.

When Burgess left Walter Reed, he had to deal not only with his physical problems, but with the emotional trauma of what had happened at the hospital, his wife said.

"He has anxiety attacks when he even thinks about going back to the Army to be seen" by a doctor, she said. "Medical professionals bother him now. He's had too many of them break their confidence with him."

Robyn said their marriage suffered after her husband came home.

"It was a year after the incident before we could get back on track," she said.

The two sought counseling individually at Fort Benning, where Matt was on medical hold, to save their marriage.

Among the confirmed medical diagnoses, according to Burgess' medical records, are sleep apnea, diabetes, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, the latter as a result of the sexual abuse.

"All conditions he is being treated for stem from the anthrax vaccination," an Army doctor wrote in a medical evaluation report on Burgess in 2004.

He has been placed on a temporary medical disability retired list and must return for checkups, even though the Department of Veteran Affairs has rated him 100 percent disabled.

Burgess is now completing a course in recreational vehicle repairs at East Central Technical College in Fitzgerald, and he and Robyn hope eventually to open an RV park and marina that would cater to ill and wounded veterans.

"Our lives were in limbo for three years for a deployment that was supposed to last one year," Robyn said. But now, she added, "We feel we have a direction for our lives."