Amid the national scrutiny into how our military handles sexual assault cases, a group of volunteers has come forward to make sure victims get the help they need.
At Naval Air Station Whidbey, 10 medical staff and six assistants at the naval hospital make up the new sexual assault forensic exam team here.
In the past, if a sexual assault victim came into the hospital, the staff had to send them to Providence Hospital in Everett for a forensic exam.
Lt. Commander Rachel Hernandez, a family nurse practitioner, thought that needed to change.
"If you were a victim of sexual assault, would you want to travel 90 minutes and maybe wait a couple of hours to get your exam?” asked Hernandez. “I don't think anyone would want that.”
So she and 15 others volunteered for 40 hours of training so they can respond on site whenever the need arises.
"One, to treat any injuries they had but also to preserve any evidence collected,” said Hernandez. “Being able to prosecute someone for sexual assault you have to have that evidence, and if someone refuses to go because of the time to Everett, then we lose that.”
The hospital use to have a similar program in 2006, when it had a 24-7 emergency room.
Then it became an urgent care facility and command staff decided to refer patients for Providence in Everett for those services.
Naval Hospital Oak Harbor is the smallest in all of naval medicine. But the sexual assault here is the only one on the West Coast. It's something the unit volunteers are very proud of.
"We're little but we do a lot,” said Lt. Elyse Braxton, a registered nurse who also volunteers on the team. “So to be the trailblazers for something that is so important, it's really an honor.”