by Natalia Mittelstadt
A vaccinated Army pilot, who was reprimanded after his initial hesitation to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, is still being denied promotion and might not be able to retire, while a woman who allegedly sexually harassed him at a military medical clinic retains her employment.
Jessica Hill-Budge, the wife of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brandon Budge in the 7th Infantry Division’s 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, told Just the News on Thursday that her husband is still being denied promotion due to his initial hesitancy about getting the COVID vaccine and may be unable to retire next year — despite the rescinding of the military’s vaccine mandate.
Shortly before Budge got the vaccine, a medic at the Winder Family Medicine Clinic, part of the Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., falsified his records without his knowledge to show that he had received the COVID vaccine. Budge was investigated over the falsified records, but the investigation, which concluded in November 2021, didn’t consider his evidence or witness testimony, according to his wife.
In December 2021, Budge received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) for behavior unbecoming of an officer after getting a “flag” (Suspend Favorable Personnel Actions) in a referred Officer Evaluation Report. The “flag” prevents Budge from receiving a promotion or retiring, and the following February, when Budge was due to receive a promotion to Chief Warrant Officer 4, he was denied.
The 7th Infantry Division previously told Just the News that they couldn’t provide any details on the investigation into Budge because it’s privileged information.
In April 2022, a Flying Evaluation Board, which was to determine whether Budge could continue flying, exonerated him regarding the falsified vaccine records. Despite this, Budge’s chain of command still wasn’t allowing him to fly, Hill-Budge said. He was finally allowed to resume his training to fly this week for the first time in a year and a half.
During the same period as the flap over the vaccine records, Budge reported that a woman who worked at the Winder Family Medicine Clinic had allegedly sexually harassed him for more than three years, Hill-Budge told Just the News. The woman allegedly tried to show Budge nude pictures of herself when he was at the clinic, and she obtained his phone number from his files to contact him. She also openly expressed a desire to make Budge “pay” for resisting her unwanted advances, according to his wife.
In August 2021, Budge told his commander about the harassment, but he was called a liar, his wife said. According to Army statutes, Budge’s chain of command must create an “unrestricted report” when there is harassment, but they didn’t, and instead shamed and belittled him, Hill-Budge alleged. As a result, Budge filed a bullying and hazing complaint with the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.
In the meantime, Budge’s alleged harasser received a promotion, and shortly thereafter, in January 2022, Budge filed an official complaint against her with the inspector general, according to Hill-Budge. The complaint alleged that the woman sexually harassed Budge and violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by sharing his medical information.
In October 2022, an investigation by the DOD inspector general substantiated Budge’s sexual harassment complaint, and the accused woman admitted to the investigators having other people give her Budge’s information from his records, according to Hill-Budge. The woman still works at the clinic, however, despite the findings, according to Hill-Budge, so Budge has been paying out of pocket to fly to another Army clinic in Alabama for the last two years.
The Madigan Army Medical Center told Just the News on Friday regarding the investigation into the woman and her employment: “We are unable to comment on ongoing personnel actions. The investigation can easily be requested through the Defense Health Agency’s Freedom of Information Office for accurate reporting.”
Meanwhile, despite Budge’s exoneration in the falsification of the vaccine records, the GOMOR and “flag” remain in his file, meaning he has still not had his promotion review board.
Budge has “to go through hoops” to get the GOMOR removed from his record, according to Hill-Budge. While there aren’t really any legal options available, she said, she is “hoping” that he will get his promotion and be able to retire next January.
In the meantime, Budge is missing out on $700 a month in extra pay due to the denial of his promotion at a time when he is paying thousands of dollars in legal fees and is paying his own way to go to another Army clinic, Hill-Budge said.
Hill-Budge’s attorney, R. Davis Younts, told Just the News in a statement on Friday: “The Budge family has suffered significantly from the retaliation and retribution against Brandon. From the moment he voiced a potential objection to the vaccine he has been subjected to constant abuse. The situation continues to take a toll on the entire family. Sadly, it is an example of weak military officers abusing their power.”
The 7th Infantry Division was unable to provide comment by publishing time.
– – –
Natalia Mittelstadt is a reporter at Just the News. Mittelstadt graduated from Regent University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Communication Studies and Government.
Photo “7th Infantry Division” by US Army.