VA Military Sexual Trauma program enables trust

Some participate via video telehealth


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Five years ago, Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator Anne Eason began facilitating a 12-week Courage Group to women and male Veteran survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. The MST program has now offered the Courage Group program to over 250 men and women Veterans.

“Facilitating these groups is such a humbling and inspiring opportunity for a therapist,” Eason said. “It is a privilege to be in the room with them and witness the precious secret they expose the moment they walk in. These Veterans are absolutely determined to process this life-changing and debilitating trauma and they come to trust each other enough to do it as a shared experience.”

One new feature that has been added to the group is part of VHA’s modernization plan and the MISSION Act to improve access to care. Cincinnati VA’s Courage Group is using VA Video Connect, which allows Veterans to attend virtually through private encrypted video TeleHealth services from almost any mobile device or computer.

Several of the Veterans who participated in a recent Courage Group chose to access their healthcare using VA Video Connect, joining in from where they were located while others chose to attend in person at the Cincinnati VAMC.

The Cincinnati VA Medical Center provides Military Sexual Trauma Courage Therapy Groups to Veterans in our local area through VVC.  Contact your local VA facility and ask for the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator for support at your VA.

Sincerity and understanding

“I observed the relief they felt, finally being able to say out loud after so many years what happened and to be believed by other Veterans who had been through the same trauma,” one of the co-facilitators said. “As they give feedback to each other, you hear their sincerity and understanding. They are able to encourage each other like none of us could ever do.”

“It was liberating,” said one male Veteran who attended the group. “I had been confined, imprisoned all these years. Just stepping in the room on the first day, I wasn’t undercover anymore. To have this level of freedom was like being able to exhale. I stand no longer ashamed and no longer disconnected from the mental state of being a man.”

At the end of a recent group, Veterans received courage bags filled with items provided through donations to the Voluntary Service program. Veterans wrote thank you notes to Voluntary Service Chief Tracy Butts and Voluntary Service Specialist Lori Steinmann.



Donations and Gifts

Eason added that she, “couldn’t express enough gratitude, and more importantly, their gratitude for these gifts provided.”

One of the donations was a prayer shawl from the Florence United Methodist Church.

“When you touch the prayer blanket, you can feel the prayers in your hands,” an Air Force Veteran said. “You knew it was made with love. People will find comfort in the blankets and they know it’s blessed.  My plan for the blanket is to pray with it. I know they must have spent so much time making them with us in mind. It’s a great comfort. I never had one like that before. I love it!”

“When going through what is called MST, you feel so alone in life and you question humanity and your self-worth,” a male Marine Corps and Navy combat Veteran said. “When people and an organization such as Voluntary Services take the time and attention to console us with gifts, it means the world to all of us. Thank you for your support and I hope that it continues to fulfill its purpose with other survivors.”

Updated on: August 12, 2019


Lisa Hollenbeck is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and is a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. She was stationed at Kaneohe Bay, HI, and served as a Trumpet player in the Marine Forces Pacific Band.

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Comments

  1. Rasheeda Hastings    

    We need more Veterans providing these services. No One Else can identify!
    Its just that simple

  2. Cynthia Koroll    

    I have made a request to join this Cincinnati program and was denied. I was told it is only for veterans in Cincinnati and no where else.
    Do I have to move there to get care? If it is tele-heath, why can’t I join?

  3. Ann Oliver    

    What a load of bologna, All the Sexual Harassment Classes in the World will never stop this from happening. Every day it happened from the beginning of enlistment to the end.

  4. Joy Marshall    

    I am very frustrated that one in every four women are sexually assaulted in the military . I am a victim, I am a survivor, and I am still broken. I cannot tell you how many times in a VA Healthcare facility I have used the term MST, and have had the VA employee look at me and say what is that? It is usually in a Lobby and therefore it is very hurtful and hard to try to explain what MST stands for with everyone listening. I don’t understand why anyone who is employed by the VA or who volunteers at the VA would not know what MST stands for. Afterall the VA has brochures everywhere and even has an MST Awareness Month. The VA MST program looks good on paper but I have to tell you , going through the process of trying to receive proper care has been almost as damaging as the trauma and residuals. Some doctors think you only need mental treatment, but let me tell you, I have so many physical injuries from the brutal assaults, yes that is plural, and most providers do not have a clue. Even the MST coordinators do not know what resources are available. I was literally housebound and asking for telemed counseling to get me to a point where I could leave my house to seek therapy. I was told by the MST coordinator , my primary care provider, and my psychiatrist that there was no such program in the VA. I applied to an out-of-state resident program and was accepted, but I could not attend because apparently no one knows how to treat narcolepsy with cataplexy in the VA residential programs. I switched primary care providers, then I switched psychiatrist, and Finally after a year or so of trying to get help, my new psychiatrist said, do you need Telehealth counseling for MSG? No problem. I was contacted two days later and the program was put in place for me. I’m very grateful but I do not understand how none of the various providers, , MST coordinators , counselors , PCMS or specialty caregivers , and even my previous psychiatrist could have been unaware that this program existed. You would think the MST Coordinator would know, right? It’s took a psychiatrist, the second one I have seen at the VA to look across the desk and say sure we have that program let me give them a call. I just don’t understand why we have to suffer when the resources are right there. Is it a lack of training? Is it a lack of knowledge? I have never been able to get Timely or accurate care through the VA, and it is for this reason I have been forced to keep my civilian medical insurance even though it costs me $400 a month and a lot of money in co-pays and coinsurance costs . Almost everything that has been done incorrectly has been documented in writing Trudy secure instant message system. What I need to know, is how to request an audit of my medical chart and medical files. I want an audit to correct many mistakes in my medical record. Yes I have sold out Medical record collection request I had a few things corrected or addended through the privacy officer, but to do that for every single incorrect entry would take 20 lifetimes. Does anyone know of a resource who will select MyChart and do a complete audit? I see many veterans complaining online on various blogs and complaining through the appropriate administrative channels and I read every single IG quarterly report for every facility. The findings are never corrected and the same findings are brought forth on every subsequent inspection with the same recommendations. We don’t need recommendations to fix the injustice we need someone with the power to act on the recommendations or to follow through to make sure the recommendations by the IG are actually being done. It is literally maddening. It is not enough to recommend change. It is not enough to Simply say we have a zero-tolerance policy. It is certainly not enough to say our veterans are important to us. Lip service does not heal broken minds and broken bodies. Lip service is moral injury upon an already injured human being. Is damaging, it is degrading, and it is absolutely so hurtful that I feel worse for having come forward and for having my hands tied and literally being silenced and helpless once again. There’s little difference between the physical ropes that bound me so many years ago in the 1980s, and the mental ropes which bind need today. The way I have been treated is a different kind of assault it’s a result is the same. I cannot find a way to heal with continued moral injury. And for anyone who has ever then brutally assaulted and silenced and stalked, please look up moral injury. If anyone has any resource please let me know. My story is the same as a million other women and sometimes men that I have seen online so complaining about it obviously it’s not enough. Admitting that one in four women experience military sexual assault it’s not enough to have them listed as a presumptive illness or injury, and I want to know why. What is the criteria or the percentage needed before an illness or an injury is so commonplace or so prevalent that it can be listed as a prospective illness? Does anyone know the statistical data? Does anyone know the regulatory body who determines which diseases or illnesses are considered presumptive? Does anyone know the name of a very good investigative reporter? I really want to do something other than complain.

  5. Alex Jamil Marrero Rosario    

    There is no trust in the program at the San Juan VA Hospital in Puerto Rico. They wanted for me to spill my guts on the very fisrt day of evaluation. They want trust but did not show me any.

  6. Sandi Clark    

    43 years and it will never go away. i still suffer severely from anxiety, insomnia, PTSD and chronic depression. I keep getting dropped in the crack for mental health at the VA and I just fired my psychiatrist because she won’t listen to me and kept implying i was lying to her. after almost 2 years with this lady, i feel raped again and again after leaving her office. Glad I fired her but still have no resolution or treatment to my issues.

    1. Ann van Hemert    

      So sorry to hear about that. I had to go through three counselors at my local VA over several years until I found one that understood my situation. Now it is just hard to schedule appointments around my work schedule. You are not alone!

  7. Yvette Holmes    

    My MST was in 1983 which I ended up pregnant from. The military helped me put the baby up for adoption. There was no counciling, it was like no one wanted to talk about. I just had to make my medical appointments & after the baby was born I as just sapposed to go on like nothing ever happened. To this day I deal with depression, anxiety and poor self esteem. It doesn’t just go away.

    1. Ann van Hemert    

      So sorry to hear that! You are not alone!

  8. Thomas R. Weaver Jr.    

    I was told last year there were not any groups for men to attend. That if there were I would be notified.

  9. CW4(r) Robert P. Wills    

    More lip service. All you people do is “OH- here’s a program for sexual assault victims” but you don’t do anything to stop soldiers/airmen from BECOMING victims in the first place by doing anything about the predators doing the assault.

    My daughter was raped while deployed to the HOA as an Airman. NOTHING was done about it. Nothing. Fast forward several years, she’s in the USAF Reserves out of Tampa and a Staff Sergeant. One of her airmen gets raped.

    They are in the 45 AES, 927th Reserves Refueling Wing.

    My daughter takes this airman to their First Shirt about it as soon as she finds out. There are three -THREE- other airmen who have had problems with this airman and the unit doesn’t give a damn. She says: “Well, you had sex with him last year so there is nothing we can do. Thanks anyway.”

    So according to the Air Force, once you have sex with someone, they can come force themselves on you FOREVER and it’s just fine by the Chain of Command. No problem that she was on sleeping medications and groggy and tried to fight him off. Whatever, right? No protection, came inside her and laughed about it later. Chain of Command doe not care. “Well, we don’t want to hurt his career, you know. Boys will be boys.”

    So keep your “Oh, we have such great programs for sexual assault”. It’s bullshit lip service.

    If you want to talk to me about it- a 25 year Army Veteran, retired Chief Warrant Officer Four, I’d be HAPPY to hear from you.

  10. Florence King    

    I would love to be able to attend this type therapy l did attend a group like this and it was a very positive experience. Being able to talk about the experience with other veterans that shared the same experience was very helpful.

    1. Veterans Health Administration    

      Hi Florence, the Cincinnati VA Medical Center provides Military Sexual Trauma Courage Therapy Groups to Veterans in the local area through VA Video Connect (VVC). Please contact your local VA facility and ask for the Military Sexual Trauma coordinator for support at your VA.” https://www.va.gov/find-locations/

  11. Rodney J Walster    

    I think it’s such atrosity to go to your ptsd comp. Exam for the mst I suffered in basic training and the civilian examiner more are less didnt believe me so he gave me a less than likely it caused my ptsd when my va records was in my favor the va took his opinion I’m so outraged at the bull crap I had to open my self up just to be denied I’m not letting this go thank you Rodney from Poplar Bluff, Mo.

  12. DeAnna E Slettebak    

    I wish this was the case in all VA facilities. The one I am in is still fighting sexual harassment by male veterans and when it is brought to the staff’s attention they make excuses for the male veterans. So for someone like me who has had two MST it makes me not want to go back to the VA. Also I have not had anyone from VA Clinic reach out about a MST group because we barely have the providers. I have to get my care at the Vet Center.

  13. Nancy Kastelic Small    

    Hello…I really was pleased to hear about the mst program after finally telling my true story about my own mst in 1982. At that time my allegations were hushed away and I have suffered from ptsd anxiety insomnia and panic attacks and major anxiety and major depression. This is truly a blessing. Army honorable veteran…Nancy j Kastelic Small ph. 1-717-668-4915.

    1. Wendy D. Rush    

      I would like to talk with you about this. Money was in 1984 and like yours hushed away, a nice way of putting it. Have you received a disability rating? Have you had any PTSD medical treatment. How are you doing now?

  14. Donald Hannum    

    I am an MST survivor from1966 when I was 17 and enlisted in the Army the MST occurred at Ft. Benning GA.
    I am now 70 years old and it NEVER GOES AWAY!
    How do you sign up?

    1. Wendy D. Rush    

      Omg it has never gone away for me either I am now 53. I can still see THEIR FACES like it was yesterday 35 years later.

    2. Veterans Health Administration    

      The Cincinnati VA Medical Center provides Military Sexual Trauma Courage Therapy Groups to Veterans in the local area through VA Video Connect (VVC). Please contact your local VA facility and ask for the Military Sexual Trauma coordinator for support at your VA.” https://www.va.gov/find-locations/

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