Dr. Beverly Reader Wins: CO discharged from Air Force with former board member as her attorney.
On February 11, 2011, the Air Force notified Beverly Reader that it was discharging her as a conscientious objector. Beverly joined the Air Force in 2001, when she accepted a commission in the Air Force and began her medical studies at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a military-run medical school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. It was during a six-week medical school program in 2004 which brought her to the slums of South Africa that she began to make connections between the violence she witnessed there and the violence of war. She also began to question the role she would play as a physician in the Air Force. Shortly after she returned from South Africa, Beverly participated in “The Bushmaster,” a military exercise designed to help future military doctors experience practicing medicine in a war zone. It was during that exercise that Beverly realized she would never be able to participate in war, even as a physician.
Although Beverly was beginning to realize she could not fulfill her military obligation, she knew nothing about conscientious objection or that conscientious objectors who met certain qualifications could receive an honorable discharge. She felt trapped. Thankfully she was ultimately given permission to apply for a civilian residency program, because it was during an interview at one of those programs that she met a former Navy doctor who had been discharged as a conscientious objector. That meeting allowed her to give a name to her beliefs. She realized then that she was a conscientious objector and that perhaps she wasn’t trapped after all.
Beverly found her way to the Center, and with the help of Counseling Coordinator, Bill Galvin, submitted her application for discharge in 2007. Although the Air Force found her religious beliefs to be sincere and deeply held, it denied her application, because it believed her beliefs did not prevent her from participating in war. The Air Force based that finding on Beverly’s testimony at her CO hearing that had she been a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, she probably would have wanted someone to liberate her and the other prisoners, even if that meant they might use deadly force.
After the Air Force denied her first CO application, Beverly began to study Quaker history and the history of non-violence at the Friends Meeting of Washington, where she had been attending regularly for a number of years. She eventually applied for and was accepted as a member of the Meeting. Through this process, Beverly’s beliefs continued to deepen. She also did not give up on getting out of the Air Force. After consulting attorney Jim Feldman, a former CCW Board member, she decided to submit a second application for discharge. When the Air Force refused even to process that application, Jim filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus asking the federal court in Virginia (where she lived) to order the Air Force to discharge her as a CO based on her first application or to process the second application. At this point, the Air Force agreed to process the second application. Following a two-day hearing in September 2010, at which she was represented by Jim, the Investigating Officer submitted a detailed 16-page report recommending that Dr. Reader be discharged as a conscientious objector. Nearly six months later, the Air Force agreed with the IO and discharged Dr. Reader. On hearing the news, Beverly was thrilled: “It’s been a long and difficult journey; words cannot express my relief.” Jim Feldman said “This is wonderful news. Although the Air Force and other branches of the military do not like to give up one of their doctors, with the help of experienced counselors, like those at the Center, and attorneys who understand this little-known area of law, justice is possible for doctor COs.”