Monday, February 11, 2008

Senator Seeks Help For Survivors Of Military Sexual Trauma

Senator Patty Murray hard at work


MILITARY SEXUAL TRAUMA -- When she reported the

attack, she was brushed off by her superior officer

who dismissed the rape as a spat with a boyfriend.

For more about military sexual trauma, use the VA Watchdog search here...

Story here...

Story below:


Senator Seeks Help For Survivors Of Military Sexual Trauma

By Judy Holland , Hearst Newspapers

Washington — Scurrying back to her Army barracks in the dark after her shift at the hospital, Sally, a 21-year-old medic, was grabbed by a man who dragged her to the woods and raped her at knifepoint.

When she reported the attack, Sally, of Kirkland, Wash., who asks that her full name not be used, was brushed off by her superior officer at Fort Belvoir, Va., who dismissed the rape as a spat with a boyfriend.

Her story is alarmingly like that of hundreds of other veterans who have suffered sexual harassment, assault and rape in the military, according to Susan Avila-Smith, a Seattle-based advocate who has helped hundreds of women veterans get VA benefits and treatment for military sexual trauma (MST).

Avila-Smith says she also was a victim when she served in the Army, having been sexually assaulted in a hospital recovery room after sinus surgery at Fort Hood, Texas.

The pressures on women service members, who now comprise about 7 percent of all veterans, are escalating:

• According to the Veterans Administration, 19 percent of women who have sought health care in the VA were diagnosed as victims of military sexual trauma.

• Cases of military sexual trauma increased from 1,700 in 2004 to 2,374 in 2005, according to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program.

Joy Ilem, assistant national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans, says many military women worry that there is no systematic way for commanders to handle sexual assault cases.

“It can definitely ruin your life if not treated,” she says.

Thirty-four years after she was attacked, Sally still takes medication for panic attacks, won't leave her house at night and is terrified of loud voices or large crowds.

She has endured years of nightmares, flashbacks, a nervous breakdown, depression and homelessness.

Sally has found solace in a Seattle support group of mostly female veterans with similar stories.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says women in the military return home traumatized because, in addition to the pressures of living in a war zone, they have been living in close quarters with men and, in many cases, report that they had been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped.

Murray is preparing legislation that would require the federal government to conduct research on military sexual trauma, provide an annual report to Congress on how the VA is handling these cases, and come up with treatments and policies to help women veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

For example, she says women should have separate waiting rooms and more privacy in veterans' hospitals because female victims of MST are further emotionally strained when they “face a room-full of men.”

The issue came to the forefront recently with the murder of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a personnel clerk at Camp Lejeune, N.C., who was eight months pregnant when her burned body was found in a fire pit in the backyard of Cpl. Cesar A. Laurean, whom she had accused of rape.

Avila-Smith says more than 99 percent of men who rape women in the military are fellow soldiers.

“They are not strangers and they're not foreigners on the other side of the war,” she says. “They're people with access to you and your paper work, people in your unit.”

Many of the victims are reluctant to report the abuse because they could be charged with filing a false report or adultery, or they fear going to jail where they could be raped again, she says.

Sally Fictim Griffiths, 33, a Houston fourth-grade teacher, mother of two young daughters and former Marine lance corporal who worked as an administrative assistant, says she was raped at age 19 in Okinawa, Japan, by a Marine she knew.

She says women planning to join the military “need to have an opportunity to sit down with other veterans who have lived the nightmare.”

Griffiths says she wouldn't have joined the Marines if she had known about the environment.

She recalls being sexually harassed by much older married men when she enlisted at 18.

But she suffered a terrible attack after she asked a fellow Marine to go jogging with her. The male Marine declined the invitation, opting instead to sneak up and rape her on the beach. Griffiths was interrogated and accused of lying at a military hearing before she found the rapist's confession in a file cabinet.

She was quickly transferred, then given an honorable discharge with the help of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and was later featured on the CBS-TV program “60 Minutes.” Her attacker was promoted and served six more years.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs panel, says any federal program to deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome must consider that women in the military can face “mental anguish” if they are sexually harassed.

She says mental health problems for women veterans “are very real and much more a focus in the Veterans' Administration then ever before.”


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org

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