Veteran sexual trauma victims: You are not alone


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Mary spends her time raising three children and volunteering to serve other Veterans.  Her father was a Vietnam Vet.  She loved soccer and Barbie dolls.  But, her love of the military began when she was in ROTC. She loved the lifestyle and the discipline.  She enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately after she completed school.  During her four years in the Army, she was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions.

She is not alone. 

What Mary experienced is called Military Sexual Trauma, otherwise known as MST.  She was afraid to report what happened to her.  She was blamed for what happened to her.  Her command turned away.  So she soldiered on.  But she was assaulted at her next duty station, and the next.  She thought she was alone.

She is not alone. 

After experiencing MST, Mary says she felt “dirty” and confused.  Her sense of self-worth plummeted.  She withdrew -“I didn’t want friendships-I didn’t want to trust anybody.”  She felt anger and hatred.  She panicked when confronted with reminders of the MST-the smell of cigarettes and alcohol, music that was playing at the time, and men.  She avoided the mess hall.  She went for supplies when she was less likely to be confronted by her attackers, or anyone who might be her next attacker.  Mary blamed herself – “Maybe if I hadn’t been so polite, maybe if I wore different clothes….”  She wasn’t able to have sex without using alcohol.

She is not alone. 

Mary’s family and friends told her they saw that “something is wrong” and encouraged her to seek help.  This irritated her.  “I was in denial,” Mary says. “I thought I’m in control.”  But then, Mary says, she began to forget things and was crying frequently. It had been seventeen years since she was assaulted.  So she reached out. She sought help.

She is not alone. 

Mary was surprised when she met her providers.  “I’m not a number.  Because I was embarrassed and thought I was trash, I thought they would think that, too.  But, my doctor was caring. Everybody was.  I was a person to them,” Mary paused, “That means a lot.”   Mary says her life has changed since seeking help.  “I’m happier and my thinking is clearer.  I’m more outgoing…more active.  I enjoy things more and I’m less angry.  I’m not as paranoid.”  She says her providers “gave me great guidance… I wish I’d come earlier.”

She is not alone. 

Mary also says, “There are a lot of people who were my stepping stones and they still are.”  Now, Mary is dedicated to serving Veterans.  And she wants to get the word out about MST.  Women and men have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.  There is an MST Coordinator at every VA facility.  Medical and Behavioral Health Services related to MST are free of charge.  And you may be eligible for treatment even if you don’t otherwise qualify.  If you have experienced MST and are having mental health or physical health problems, please call or come to your VA medical center.

You are not alone. 


About the author: Grant O’Neal, PhD., is a MST Coordinator at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

-- VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you'd like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Kevin Presser    

    I was raped when I was 17.by a black man when I was in the service

    1. Saul Goldfarb    

      I feel for you brother. I too was attempted raped by a fellow soldier during Basic Training at Fort Bliss Texas. And I was 18.5 then. The command just blamed me for the incident.

  2. Barbara A Page-Ridgway    

    MST for women and the Male Experienced Vietnam PTSD should not be treated as the same…I am in a group of men that experienced PTSD and was told this program may help me with my MST…It is called a “Readjustment Group.” It does not help me as the men in the group could have been my perps. I was married to a Vietnam Vet for 24 years worth of physical, mental and emotional abuse and this group took me back to many places I did not want to be.
    Our experiences were different and our trauma was different and can not be treated as the same. I was told if I did not attend all classes the VA may look at me as being not interested in helping myself….I will be letting the VA know how I feel as I have an appt with my psych next week but just in case anyone else is going though this I thought you need to know…Thanks for listening…The VA is great but need to adjust their programs.

    1. Christy Workman    

      You are absolutely right Barbara. The VA does not have sufficient resources to provide the adequate help to women who suffer from MST. Especially in group format. I have had had to go to the same kind of groups and I’ve always been the only female. Something needs to change. Best of luck to you.

  3. Charlotte Scott    

    I am a female veteran. I was sexually assaulted by an officer. I went to my commanding officer he stated who would believe me and why would I ruin an officers career. He’s white and you’re black who do you think they’ll believe. I went from airman of the year to being discharged for being overweight. Commanding officers should take allegations seriously and let it be known they will not tolerate that kind of behavior.

  4. Afraid of further recourse    

    I was sexually assaulted by senior females beginning in boot camp then again for the next two years in my squadron. I reported the act in boot camp but the complaint disappeared. I reported the complaints in 2015-2016, but I was ostrosized and treated very poorly. As a matter of fact, while in boot camp after I filed the complaint I was sent to IT (intensive training 2-3 days a week which caused huge blisters on my feet, bad ankles, and swollen knees. I don’t have personnel or medical records for the first year I was in the military, and the VA won’t approve my claims. This has been 30 years ago and nobody ever told me I could get help, nor did I know I could go to the VA. I have had a horrible and lonely life constantly moving, having no friends, going from job to job (83 jobs since the military), and unsuccessful male relationships. Now that I’m making attempts to work on the trauma with hopes of living a normal life for what few years I have left the VA won’t do what is right.

  5. Kajuana Brown    

    I am happy you spoke out. This is why I did not even sign up because I did not want to be in the room with these men. I know I have panic attacks and anxiety when I feel threatened and being in a room with slot of men is talking about another man who raped and the military protected him is a HELL NO! If they VA cared (now called congress) they wouldn’t put women or even men who are sexually assaulted in this type of atmosphere.

  6. Donald K Wheeler    

    I see in the media and other places that WOMEN are MST victims and therefore get all the programs for MST. I was raped by a woman and 3 men in Desert Storm in what is called a ritual rape. It occurred on Halloween night, I have been in 2 inpatient programs for PTSD in the last 4 years. All of them were geared towards Alcohol and drug abuse. I have never drank or used recreational drugs, I have found that there is only ONE program for MALE MST victims in the VA system and cannot find ANY in the civilian world , The VA program is said to be in BAY PINES Florida for those of you who are interested. This is 1300 miles from my home and they WILL NOT pay for my Wife who is my caretaker and rock to go with. I am a 3 time suicide survivor because of her close watch and that of my service dog I bought with my own cash.

  7. Tawanda Renee Walker    

    What about Active uty personnel, are we making Basic Trainees aware of Sexual, physical assaults, and bystander intervention. How we as military personnel dont stand by nor do wr engage in assaults against our own. This happened to my son in retaliation for me standing up for those who couldnt stand up for themselves at times in 131BW and 509 BW Whiteman AFB, MO, and reporting what was planned against me, my son (name redacted) Active duty Air Force Langley AFB, VA, my daughter (name redacted) Crestview, Fl , (name redacted), (name redacted) Navy, (name redacted) Army, my ex husband (name redacted), Tchula, MS.

  8. Audy Darrel Waldrop    

    I will take you back to the late 1960’s, when some male soldiers were there because some judge gave them a choice to join the military or do prison time, remember, they did not yet have a felony record. So off to be with Uncle Sam they went. I was stationed near the DMZ in Korea with an artillery unit, that was artillery support for second division should the worst happen. Early one April morning I, a male, was attacked, sodomized, by two of my fellow soldiers. Both of whom I learned later should have been doing time in a prisons for felonies committed before enlisting, but some judge allowed them an easy out. My claim stayed in the Indianapolis regional office for 101/2 years and was only settled then, due to the intervention of both of Indiana,s Senators. MST is not just a one sex problem.

  9. Zima Griep    

    I have MST/PTSD, due to twice being acttack by my unit. One in Ft.Bliss , Texas, suffer a TBI , and was put overnight in the hospital. I was hit on the head, while covered and held down. No one try to help get the six people off of me. They all wore protective mask. I never got any help or consultation from any doctor. It’s been years and now I still wonder if I should just give up on life. I tried the VA many times, and always the women’s group was ended. Sad to know, nothing has change.

  10. Laura burns sierra    

    I was raped sodomized in my own dorm bedroom some how the attacker got into my room. I didn’t tell anyone I keep it to myself I was just accepted into the bootstrap program and I knew if I opened my mouth I would lose this opportunity. Later I found out the rapist gave me herpies! Every time I forget it happened The outbreaks remind me. It’s been 30 years since that happened as the year went by I became more and more secluded without even noticing. I was once a PME Instructor in the military awarded the John Leveto award went to college during my 12 years of service completed two master degree but today I can barley leave my house with out getting paranoid and scared. Someone’s act of violence can affect us the rest of our lives I joined the military in 1985 I joined to serve my country if I would of known the sexual harassment problems in the military I would of never joined I am still trying to prove my claim!

  11. Coriana Eastman    

    I was ruffied and raped while in Sigonela Sicily on my way to Kuwait when I was in the Air Force. It was not documented at all and my Chief said “Well that is too bad that happened” That was it. I received a commision as a Naval Officer but was so disturbed because it was sailors that did it to me….I quite going to my weekend drills and eventually resigned. I don’t beleive I have any recourse. I paid for my own therapy. I struggle today in some situations and I don’t trust very easily. It was great to hear someone speak out but outside of typing the words your not alone….what is the military doing to help men and women that have gone through undocumented assault? What is our recourse? I went to the VA and answered honestly when asked if I was assaulted. I don’t feel like I was offered assistance. I suffer in my career field as a civilian, I have a terrible time with harassment as a female aircraft mechanic. Yeah how do you prove that you were a victim afraid to speak up and that the incident has changed your life!

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