The Invisible War—A Look into Military Sexual Trauma



Early in 2011 the Dr. Oz Show did a special show that highlighted women Veterans that were homeless. Some had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and had been raped or experienced a military sexual trauma (MST).  It was the kind of show that presented Veterans in an honorable manner and allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address the fact that many female Veterans fall through the cracks with normal routine VA care; let alone extreme cases such as homelessness and PTSD or MST. A VA representative mentioned the action teams in place in Washington, D.C. to study the problem of women Veterans and how they were establishing hotlines, and outreach programs.

As a combat zone Veteran with five deployments to the Middle East supporting the Persian Gulf War, I receive disability compensation and treatment at VA for PTSD and MST. I can tell you first hand that since my retirement in 2007 it has been an uphill battle to get the help I need. But I am getting help.  Then I stumbled across a film that is going to be released in January 2012, called, “The Invisible War” that is supposed to address MST in particular.  I talked to a few people I know in the industry about this, and discovered that one of the Veterans that was interviewed and may appear as a main character is a man that was raped and claims this rape caused him to become a pedophile—which he served criminal prison time for. I am writing this blog in the hopes to pre-empt the hate mail that the VA will receive after the public sees his interview in this film.

Yes, MST is a real issue and needs to be treated, and yes, the VA could be doing a better job, but I do not feel that linking MST to criminal pedophiles will do anything to enhance the medical assistance the veterans receive. If anything it will cause the public to revert to the era of Vietnam when people would spit on veterans in public. I would hope the VA would read this blog and be PRO-ACTIVE with a public affairs campaign for TV ads to advocate for the positive assistance for MST survivors to get treatment.

I am a Veteran. I am proud of my country. The VA is not perfect by any means, but I do not feel it is necessary to embarrass and degrade Veterans who have already suffered MST to be lumped in the same category as criminals who blame MST for their criminal behavior.

Kimberly L. Heartsong enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a weather observer in 1987 and supported three NASA space shuttle missions—she was commissioned in 1989. As an Aircraft Maintenance Officer and Logistician she worked for the Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, FL. Kim deployed five times in support of the Persian Gulf War to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. She was medically retired as a Lt Colonel in 2007.

Author

Kimberly Heartsong

Comments

  1. Cathy Schmieder    

    I was sexually assaulted in boot came as my first encounter. I went forward trying to tell my story while in boot camp, but instead of helping me, I was told they would discharge me, and put in my record that I had a “personality disorder” to be able to get out! I was so hurt, and so angry and didn’t know what to do. So basically, I did nothing! I stayed in active duty, because I did not want the personality stigma attached to myself, and the subject was never brought up again. A year and a half later in active duty my Chief heard there was a playboy audition close to our base and I was “required” to try oh as set up by this Chief Petty Officer! I had no one to talk to about it, or complain and already felt, because of what happened in boot camp that I didn’t have any choices so I went! Luckily I didn’t make it. I was treated as a sexual object almost daily, as my initial job was with the Seabee crew, and again another Incident transpired! To make a long story short, I to this day have never shared my story with ANYONE except bits and pieces to. Close girl friend I went to boot camp with and have remained friends with. Until coming across this forum randomly I didn’t even know there was help out there for me! So, since my enlistement which was fro. Oct. 1982 thruApr. 1985, I have made many messes of my life, and continued to disrespect myself as well not really knowing why. I suffer now with chronic Fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathic, and diabetes etc. I have had 3 marriages and numerous failures at relationships. I do think there has to be some correlation between all this and what happened to me while trying to serve my country. Is it too late for me to get VA help? I have been on social security disability for about 9 years due to chronic illness. It would be nice to get some much needed help and talk to others who had similar experiences as I have always felt so alone, so ashamed, so responsible I. Some warped way. I am even to this second worried I could get in some sort of trouble for telling! But at this point in life, I just want it over! I want to feel better.

  2. catherine bowman west moorman    

    i’m a mst , ptsd and tbi survior and i want to let u know my unit took my rank and my pay and called me everything but a white woman and they told lots of lies on me … and i had to deal with it …this has ruint my life with men all together …i do not look at men the same way anymore.and it has ruint me with any realtionship at all …. i was in the service in 2003 to 2009 i got discharged honorable but i should have got a medical discharge …..

  3. Bob VentrellA    

    This needs to be brought to light and taken care of. Mabe I am old school this calls for Courts Martial, disgrace and Leavenworth. We all follow Duty Honor and Country if we cannot get out. The female soldier, NCO or Officer next to you may save your butt. MEN women are as good as you are in combat (look at Israel). Assault and Abuse are not excuses oh I had PTSD I had MAd Cow Disease. BS. I am a counsellor and assist in some ways. The new one is blame the Arab, yes they can and do abuse women, they have slave markets as well, The men and women in a Military Unit are brothers and sisters and must be treated that way, the leadership stinks if they let this fall through the cracks.

  4. Bob    

    I am truly saddened by all (both men and women) who have experienced MST. It is a life changing traumatic event that should never happen. I certainly feel for those women who have been traumatized by these experiences. They deserve help, respect and love. Hopefully the movie “the invisible war” will shed serious light on this crime. Having said this, I truly wish that more research was done for male victims (such as I) concerning MST. Not all men who, unfortuantly, had an encounter with MST are pedophile. PTSD of any form is bad. PTSD associated with MST is terrible. This is reported as the worse kind of any trauma, including combat!

    Concerning the VA and MST, for those that have been fighting, I join that club. Since 2008 when I first learned about MST I have been screaming to them that I need help, and Im a man. NOTHING! I placed claims only to be denied. I sent documents, articles, research and info about MST. Denied! It is as if they could care less, although I know that there are many great folks that do care within the walls of the VA. I just hope it gets better.
    I did find an interesting book on Amazon about MST. From the contents page, it appears to have valuable info for those submitting claims. Good luck!

  5. UsmcGirl0281    

    I am a veteran and I despise the VA. Every chance they get they try to do wrong by the vet especially if you are the wrong gender (female). They have done ungodly things then intentionally blamed the victims they’ve done it to. They hire rapists and pedophiles to work in the hospitals around MST victims. The VA should receive hate mail. Perhaps it will inspire them to start doing right by us. Oh and let me just say, quite a few veterans deserve to be spit on. You think these people are heros and yet you have no idea these vets are rapists and come home to carry on with their criminal behaviors the Military let them get away with because according to the government rape is just an instance of the job and is to be expected… oh yes I am dead serious. Look up Susan Burke’s MST lawsuit and read the motion to dismiss by the government…. Be proud of this disgraceful government and government run institution

    1. Kimberly Heartsong    

      Dear UsmcGirl0281,

      I hear such pain in your words. Yet in your email you still are an USMC Girl. I know it is an oxymoron. I am proud of my service and have horrible feelings and images for things done to me and the injustice that followed. I even acquired through the freedom of information act the court transcript of the first trial I was part of when I was a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant. Because I was enlisted first, I was 30 years old at the time, and realized I was in the “boys club” and as the only female officer had no one in my corner. My supervisor demanded I perform oral sex on him for my annual evaluation to be rated superior. I refused. My commanding officer found out later what had happened because one night when we were working multiple days/nights in a row I confided in another 2nd lieutenant and he told the commander.

      My commander filed charges against my supervisor because they were trying to get rid of the scum bag for years. They thought, they would sacrifice my career to get rid of him. Every time I was put on the witness stand and cross examined by my supervisors hired civilian criminal lawyer he implied that I wearing the same BDUs and black boots as all the men somehow looked overtly sexy and was using my womanly charms to entice my supervisor to behave inappropriately.

      Apparently,my supervisor had been doing this for years and instead of punishing him, they would ship off the enlisted females to Korea. The Courts Martial ended with him being aloud to compete for the rank of Major. It was disgusting. But it taught me early that the military was not a JUST place to work and if I wanted a career, then I had to handle things personally.

      I learned to speak up for myself. The next supervisor that told me to perform oral sex on him for my annual report, I responded with: fine, how many inches would you like me to bite off, one, two, three? or do you only have two?

      Now, I don’t normally talk like that and I had to work on my responses in advance, but it did help me to have responses ready for men who thought they had all the power. I also went so far in my career as I gained rank to look out for abusers and neutralize them as I could and to educate the masses as to their personal rights. As I am retired now, my anger issues are still there, but I’m working on them.

      Now I see an MST counselor weekly at the VA and I am using a book called The Chronic Illness Workbook: Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back Your Life, by Patrica A Fennell.

      Best of life to you!
      Very Respectfully,
      Kim Heartsong

  6. Melissa    

    Kimberly-
    First, thank you for your service. Second, I wish you well with your long road ahead. Third — THANK YOU for bringing this up. It is confounding how, when there are soooo many solid, real stories to tell, the filmmakers chose to include this profile. It not only serves to damage perception of Veterans and the issues they face in reintegration, but also plays absurd games with the issue of pedophelia –“caused by rape”? Are they kidding? This is nuts on so many levels. Best to you, and thank you again.

    1. Kimberly Heartsong    

      Dear Melissa,

      Thank you for your comments. I felt the same way which is why I wrote the blog. I’m not sure, we will have to wait until January 28th when the film comes out, but I think the film people “vetted” this person and may have edited him out of the film? If this is true then a big hallelujah!

      Retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is in the film clip on U-tube:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ifc_ongQFQ

      I respect her a lot. I went to the ground breaking ceremony in 1997 for the Women’s Memorial. She has always been a powerful activist for women, I just couldn’t believe she would be part of a movie with false info. I can’t wait to see the film for myself to judge the actual film.

      Very Respectfully,
      Kim Heartsong

      1. Antonia McCray    

        Dear Lt. Colonel K. Heartsong:

        Thank you for sharing your personal experience with many of us who understand fully.

        We are starting a Home for Battered Women. I would like you to consider being on our Interim Board of Directors, and leading it (especially with your experience).

        Your location is not an issue, because our goal for the Board, is 21 Members, domestic and international. Each member can work from wherever they are. Our goal is to plan meeting quarterly in different places.

        Please peruse our website to discover part of the plans for this Project.

        There is a monthly fee of $45, or yearly $360 to join.

        Kind regards,

        A. McCray, C.E.O.
        Volunteer Doctors Coalition

  7. JULIA LAUGHLIN    

    I am a victim of MST and I did not turn into a pedophile or become anything that I would never have done before the MST. I have extreme anger issues against men (and women) who have no integrity, who degrade women, children, and anyone else for that matter. I went to a MST clinic in California but was kicked out because my issues were not resolvable there because of my anger. I don’t think that group work in that setting was conducive because they belittle the patients in front of everyone. It really sucked there. Then, they would not let the patients see any psychologists on a one on one basis. The military does not have a good place for anyone who needs help with MST if this class was the BEST as they purport.

    1. Kimberly Heartsong    

      Dear JULIA LAUGHLIN,

      I am sorry for your experience in the MST support group. I too have anger issues. I remember one “anger management” group where I was asked to leave because I was “beyond hope” and needed to get myself under control before I could return. This was on active duty. It was laughable. “I” had to get “myself” under control before “I” could return to the mental health group for “anger management. If that isn’t a skit for Saturday Night Live, I don’t know what is!

      I would like to recommend a book I stumbled across: The Chronic Illness Workbook: Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back Your Life, by Patricia A. Fennell. Although not for Anger specifically, it is for any “chronic” issue. and my anger was a chronic issue that kept me from getting any of my other chronic issues treated.

      I have been peeling back my chronic conditions like the layers of an onion with the help of the book and it has given me pieces of my life back. I have been working with an MST trained counselor at a VA for about 6months now, and that along with this book has been helping me to be “normal” in parts of my life. I hope you too will find pieces of your life that you can reclaim and call “normal” and find peace.

      Very respectfully,

      Kim Heartsong

  8. Ginny    

    Unbelievable!!! This man, using MST as an excuse to assault children as a pedophile is beyond any realm of reality….if this was the case, every 1 in 5 women, the current statistic of rape, would also become a criminal. This person, was likely discovered to be a pedophile, and as is the prison system, suffered the consequences, as in prison, since their is it’s own sense of justice!

    If the VA, even with their faults, is smart, it will become extremely proactive, or risk what they have managed to gain in the momentum of treating the silent disease of PTSD and MST. I pray this occurs quickly and efficiently while maintaining empathy for the victims of PTSD and MST.

    Sincerely,

    Ginny, RN

    1. Kim Heartsong    

      Dear Ginny,

      I agree and hear your emotions. I hope the VA is pro active and rides the wave of this film and ups their services for all MST survivors.

      Somehow I still have to have sympathy for this man that was raped. I will never condone pedophiles in any way and think the justice system should deal with them. It is just such a shame that a rape victim has to complicate such a terrible event by coloring it with criminal activity. Your statistic of 1 out of 5 women being raped is the same statistic I’ve heard. I hope this film addresses this. I couldn’t find on the web how many rapists are actually convicted to compare to that 1 in 5 rapes. That is where the focus should be.

      Rape of women or men is a horrible violent crime and should be stopped and if not stopped, at least punished. The shame should not fall to the victim.

      Kim

  9. Harriet A. Rose    

    Hello Kimberly thank you for the information about the film. One thing I’m realizing a lot of soilders that went into the military to fight the war apparently had mental health problems before going into the military. I believe that when 911 happen just like our history we were hot headed, nothing was planned nor well thought out and at that time a lot of sexual preptiors went into the military with a lot of others that had there own agenda. I feel really bad for all female veterans because I know how hard it is to be a female in the military. I’m a disabled veteran and I went through a trauma while on active duty. It still effects me today. I am really afraid of what’s to come for female veterans but am willing to help in any way I can. I’m a clinical counselor and working to get training in PTSD. Thank you for enlightening me. I will save your e-mail and reference it. Good Luck!

    1. Kimberly Heartsong    

      Dear Harriet A. Rose, Thank you so much for your response to my blog. I am thrilled that a veteran is now getting training in PTSD counseling to help others. There is a great resource: The Chronic Illness Workbook: Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back Your Life, by Patricia A. Fennell. It has helped me a lot. It is focused on ANY condition that is chronic and PTSD is.

      As for women who have been raped, please remember men have been raped also. They seem to carry a double shame in our society. Therapist must be sensitive that when you are being raped it isn’t as easy as just “fight” your way out. Many times there are multiple rapists who render the person unconscious first. The stigma associated that the victim somehow just didn’t do enough has to be the first thing to go.

      Again, thank you for your service as a counselor.

      Very respectfully,
      Kim Heartsong

      1. Bill    

        BillI fianally admitted to my pschycitrist and he wrote a letter I suffer from PTSD,and san diego office informed me that I need to support the claim I am lost and would like anyone to help me I am suffering from severe anxiety attacks and fashbacks
        Thanks Bill

Comments are closed.