Veteran Fights to Clear Name After the U.S. Navy Discharged Her for Doctor Prescribed Drugs
(GAZETTE) For three years, Graciela Saraiva has been trying to clear her name after she was discharged from the U.S. Navy under “other than honorable” conditions for failing a drug urinalysis.
Saraiva, 23, of Olney, tested positive for codeine, which was in Tylenol-3 pills she was taking after getting her wisdom teeth removed, she said.
During her orientation for the Navy Reserve, she took a urinalysis, she said.
There was paperwork asking what medication she was on. She left it blank.
It was a simple mistake, she said; she didn’t list her birth control either.
“It didn’t even occur to me,” she said of the Tylenol.
When contacted by The Gazette, Hunjin Kim, a Silver Spring-based dental surgeon, confirmed Saraiva’s account.
The Navy found codeine and morphine in Saraiva’s system, and sent her a letter in May 2010, telling her she had tested positive for the drugs.
A Navy spokeswoman said the Navy has a zero tolerance for drug use, but would not publicly comment on details of Saraiva’s dismissal.
Saraiva contends that she didn’t receive the letter right away because it had been improperly addressed to her and because she was in California completing her annual reserve training, she said.
When she returned from her annual training, supervisors pulled her aside.
“They give me a letter which said I had popped for codeine,” she said of the positive drug test.
They escorted her off the base, and told her that if she didn’t provide paperwork that didn’t explain the codeine in her system, she would be kicked out of the Navy.
It was a shock for Saraiva, a Brazilian-American immigrant who enlisted out of high school, mirroring her sister’s decision to join the Marines a few years before. It was an “honor” for her and her family, she said.
“I wanted to be part of this organization, to be part of a team, and do something greater for my country,” she said.
Saraiva provided the paperwork later that week, but was discharged in August anyway, she said.
“I was amazed, speechless, and pissed off,” she said. “Of all the [people] in the Navy who can’t pass [physical requirement tests] and follow orders, I’m the one kicked out? For something I didn’t even do?”
Saraiva earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a Rifle Expert Medal, and a Pistol Sharpshooter Ribbon, according to her public record from the Navy before she moved to the reserves in March 2010.
Saraiva received a discharge of “Other Than Honorable,” which is two grades below an “honorable” discharge and one above “dishonorable.” She also was designated as RE-4, which is a recommendation against re-enlistment, according to the website of the Navy’s inspector general.
Naval records that Saraiva’s family provided to The Gazette show that when Saraiva appealed her discharge, two separate boards reviewed her case.
One, a Navy discharge review board, ruled in her favor in 2011, and changed her discharge status.
“She does have an honorable discharge,” Naval News Service Lt. Cmdr Sarah Flaherty told The Gazette.
However, the Board for Correction of Naval Records told the Saraiva family in May that it would not change Saraiva’s re-enlistment code from an RE-4, which Saraiva believes stands as a black mark on her record.
“It’s not a good thing to have — at all. It’s going to influence whether or where and what kind of jobs I can get,” she said. “It’s going to limit me significantly.”
“The rules for urinalysis are to disclose and declare medicines you’re on at the time of urinalysis,” Flaherty said.
She added: “The reason [the Navy] has medical declarations is because when something pops, they refer to your medical record.”
Flaherty also said that the Navy had received a congressional letter on behalf of Saraiva, but Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, had not yet sent his response.
“She needs to wait to see the letter to see what comes,” Flaherty said. She did not say what decision the letter contained.
A representative from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who Saraiva’s family contacted, said office policy prohibits them from discussing individual constituent cases.
If the Navy declines to change Saraiva’s re-enlistment code, her next step would be to file suit against the Navy in federal court, Flaherty said. Saraiva said she is considering that. But she’s not sure if she would re-enter the reserves at this point, even if she could, she said.
“At this point, I’m focused on getting my life back, getting my reputation back. Then I’ll think about whether or not I want to pursue that route,” she said.