The Marine Corps has declined a military judge’s recommendation to suspend Cpl. Thae Ohu’s discharge sentence and instead will give her a bad conduct discharge now ― possibly making it harder for her to receive the care and medicine she says she needs.
Her charges stemmed from an April 2020 assault that saw Ohu attempting to stab her then-boyfriend Michael Hinesley, a Marine at the time. Both Ohu and Hinesley say the assault was the result of a severe mental health breakdown triggered by an alleged sexual assault suffered earlier in her Marine Corps career.
Ohu was sentenced to time served, which totaled 328 days in the brig, reduction to E-1 and a bad conduct discharge ― though the judge in the case, Lt. Col. Michael Zimmerman, recommended the discharge be suspended for six months.
Zimmerman cited Ohu’s, “significant mental health history/diagnosis ... as weighty extenuation and mitigation,” for his reason to suspend the sentence, Maj. Gen. Julian Alford, the commander of Training Command, said in a letter he sent to the Department of Veteran Affairs on Ohu’s behalf.
On Monday, Alford denied the suspension of the discharge, Marine spokesman Capt. Samuel Stephenson told Marine Corps Times Wednesday morning.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances of the case ... I approved without suspension the bad conduct discharge,” Alford said in the letter to Veterans Affairs.
The Marine Corps has not yet answered inquires to Marine Corps Times asking why the decision was made.
Mental health struggles
Ohu has struggled with mental health issues her entire life and had required a mental health waiver to enlist in the Marine Corps, her sister Pan Phyu, currently stationed in San Diego with the Navy, told Marine Corps Times in November 2020.
But it was an alleged 2015 sexual assault in Okinawa, Japan, that set Ohu over the edge.
The alleged perpetrator was one of her superiors and someone she said she saw as a mentor until he allegedly got her drunk and raped her.
Ohu’s alleged rape added fuel to her mental health issues, according to her family, coupled with claims that her chain of command failed to help her get treatment. They say that’s what ultimately led to an alleged April assault, where Ohu grabbed a knife and attempted to stab her boyfriend.
As part of a plea deal in May for charges stemming from that incident, Ohu pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault on an intimate partner with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault consummated by battery, one count of destruction of government property, and one count with two specifications of willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer.
“I can’t begin to tell you about the nightmares of regret that I would face if this court places a conviction on Cpl. Ohu,” Hinesley said in a sworn statement during Ohu’s plea hearing. “Thae is a victim too and I was just a symptom to an even greater problem in the Marine Corps and Department of the Navy.”
While in the brig awaiting trial Ohu was finally able to receive the mental health care she needed and after some experimentation doctors finally found medicine that helped her, Jason Moy, the Marine’s defense attorney, said during the plea hearing.
Since she was released from the brig in May Ohu has been staying in her home state of Indiana, awaiting the final decision from the Marine Corps on her discharge status, Phyu said.
A Marine with a bad conduct discharge from a special court-martial may apply for medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it is on the VA to approve the application.
Scott Hope, the deputy national service director for Disabled American Veterans, said that the chances of the VA approving benefits for a veteran with a bad conduct discharge are pretty slim. However, he did note that he does not know all the details of this case and there may be extenuating circumstances that will lead to the VA deeming Ohu eligible for health care.
A denial of benefit would make it harder for Ohu to receive the medicine and mental health care she needs, her lawyers argued at her plea agreement.
If the discharge was suspended Ohu would have gone through a six month probationary period. If she successfully completed the six months without violating the probation set, the bad conduct discharge sentence would have been remitted, the 2019 Manual for Court Martial reads.
Alford wrote in his letter to the VA, reviewed by Marine Corps Times, that the VA should not prevent her from receiving the treatment she needs.
“Corporal Ohu was held accountable for her actions through a court-martial conviction,” Alford wrote. “However, this should not prevent her from receiving necessary treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The letter was part of the plea deal, which required Alford to write to the VA and urge the agency to accept requests by Ohu for medical care after she leaves the Marine Corps.
Though Phyu was angered by the decision, she said Ohu and the family were not shocked by it either.
“I’m pissed about this,” Ohu’s sister Phyu told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday. “She is struggling with everything, her quality of life is all messed up.”
Ohu left the brig with enough medicine to last her until August and may not be able to get a refill until sometime in September, Phyu said. To make her medicine last longer Ohu has started spacing out her dosages, Phyu said.
Phyu said she and Ohu have been working with several veterans’ organizations to help ensure Ohu will receive the help she needed.
“We’re going to fight because it is only right,” Phyu said.
This story has been updated to correct that Ohu has enough medicine to last until August.