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Travis Air Force Base psychologist arrested and charged with raping veteran patients

Travis Air Force Base (Air Force/Staff Sgt. Matt McGovern)
May 16, 2018

A clinical psychologist employed by Travis Air Force Base in California has been arrested and charged with raping patients he was hired to help cope with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Heath Sommer, 41, allegedly used “exposure therapy” on patients who had been sexually assaulted while deployed, NBC reported this week.

Sommer will stand trial on three felony sexual assault charges against female service members, including sexual battery, rape and oral copulation, while working at David Grant Medical Center on the base during 2014 and 2015, according to the Solano County Sheriff’s Office records.

Sommer was booked into Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield with bail set at $750,000.

“Many of these victims were war veterans diagnosed with PTSD due to various forms of trauma, sexual and non-sexual, while active duty in the U.S. Air Force. As their therapist, the defendant was in a position of power. While some victims were strong enough to stand up to the defendant and refuse his advances, others weren’t. Those victims, especially the victims of sexual assault, are now even more traumatized due to the defendant’s actions,” the complaint stated.

Sommer pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Sommer’s lawyer, Thomas Maas, claimed the sex was consensual and part of the therapy, The Daily Republic reported.

Aloha Health Joint Venture, the contracting company, evaluated Sommer and the Air Force conducted a background check, Air Force officials said.

Base spokeswoman Tonya Racasner said: “Nothing popped up during the background check.”

As soon as Air Force officials learned of the allegations, they took immediate action and suspended him, she added.

“We take sexual assault very seriously and we really condone exposure therapy,” Racasner said.

An annual Pentagon report released in April reported that the number of reported sexual assaults has grown by about 10 percent, while sexual harassment cases were up by 16 percent over the previous year.

Travis Air Force Base officials said they are encouraging victims to continue to come forward and hope the Sommer case does not deter them from seeking help.