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  • History MST

     

    Tells her graphic story to let others know they are not alone

    (This story contains a graphic personal account of sexual trauma. The name of the survivor has been abbreviated to respect her privacy. Dr. Nicole Anders (pictured above), Military Sexual Trauma counselor at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, is her counselor.)

    When K. H. walked into the VA Southern Nevada Medical Center in 2017, she decided she was finally going to seek counseling. After seeing a poster for survivors of military sexual trauma, K.H. realized it was time. “I decided to speak out and get the help I felt I so desperately needed.”

    Now 56 years old, K.H. has suffered through a lifetime of abuse from family, friends, and fellow servicemembers. “I was the baby of six kids,” she said, “and my father was a pedophile since I can remember.” This abuse was the first of several instances of sexual trauma that K.H. would endure in her lifetime.

    In order to improve her self-esteem, K.H. wanted to find a career that she could be proud of. “I joined the military right after high school,” she said, “I wanted to prove to myself I was worthy of the respect I gave to the military men and women. K.H. graduated from her training at Fort Sill, Okla. to become a field artillery radar operator, and was first stationed in Hanau, Germany.

    “That is where my life was changed forever,” K.H. said. She had met several new friends, including a few officers, despite being a junior-enlisted soldier herself. One of those friends was a second lieutenant. “We got to be good friends and she invited me to a party with the officers,” K.H. said. “I had no reason not to just trust her as we went on vacations together with other officers.”

    While at the party, K.H. had a few drinks and blacked out. That was when she was attacked by an unknown man. “The next thing I know, I was coming to and being sodomized. I tried to stop him, and his response was a slap on my buttocks telling me he was done anyway.” K.H. is unsure of whether or not she was drugged but remembers that she didn’t drink very much. After regaining consciousness, she realized the extent of her injuries. “I woke up with blood all over my face, I was told I fell downstairs, yet received no other injuries except my bloody face and the sexual assault.”

    “Somehow, I must have deserved it.”

    Scared, K.H. hoped to find comfort from a friend. “When I told the lieutenant what had happened, she said ‘Please do not say anything, I could lose my rank, and it would be your word against an officer.’ So I said nothing.” K.H. blamed herself for going to a party with officers.” “I blamed myself for all of the abuse my whole life,” she said. “And this just confirmed the fact that I deserved everything I ever got. Somehow I must have deserved it.”

    K.H. would experience another sexual assault during her military career. A man at a party raped her, despite her telling him no. She did not report either incident, for fear of reprisal. “Again I suffered in peace. My pedestal I had put the military and officers on came crashing down. My father stole my childhood and the military tore me to my most inner core.”

    K.H. stayed in the active reserves for eight years. Throughout her service, she did not want to seek professional help but would turn to other methods to help her cope with the pain and avoid men. “I would rip off my toes nails just so I wouldn’t have to run in front of the men in a T-shirt,” she said. “I drank often to try to forget. I even overdosed on alcohol.” Her mental health issues continued after her time of service ended. “I am filled with anxiety and depression. I was angry all the time. I don’t trust. I turned to alcohol and drugs,” she said.

    Finally, K.H. decided to seek counseling from the VA. “I have used the VA off and on for years. It was only about 18 months ago I decided I really need and wanted help,” she said. “I saw a poster when I went to get medication for my depression and decided to speak out and get the help I fell I so desperately needed.”

    “The rewards outweigh the fear.”

    K.H. began her counseling program with Dr. Nicole Anders (picture above) and the Military Sexual Trauma counselors at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System. “The MST program was very hard,” she said. “But the rewards outweigh the fear and anxiety of starting the program. I felt very comfortable with Doctor Anders and her intern, Amber Hassan.”

    “When she first came in, she was incredibly traumatized,” said Anders, a clinical psychologist who oversees VASNHS’ MST program. “She had full-blown PTSD symptoms, a lot of avoidance, and self-injurious behavior. We added her into the program, and she was hesitant at first. But we started doing a lot of rapport-building and eventually brought her into the PTSD program formally.”

    In time, K.H. was able to move to an MST process group therapy, led by Anders and Hassan. “The group class was as amazing as it was hard,” she said. “To see other women and hear their stories made me feel like ‘Wow, I am not the only one.’ The tools I learned, and I’m still learning to use, have made my life livable. Never did I feel judged or blamed for what happened to me.”

    Next, K.H. participated in cognitive processing therapy, a 12-week psychotherapy program, and by the end of it, she made several huge changes in her life. “She has made great improvements in socializing and relationships and her anxiety had diminished,” said Anders. “She was an ideal patient, and the team really has been proud of her progress.”

    “Letting go of the guilt and shame was a huge turning point.”

    Between the group therapy and one-on-one counseling, K.H. is beginning to see some improvements in her mental health. “I finally believe none of these traumatic experiences are my fault,” she said. “Letting go of the guilt and shame was a huge turning point for my recovery. I won’t lie, it will never be gone, but I stand a better chance with all the tools I have learned in the MST/PTSD program.”

    One in five women and one in 100 men have experienced military sexual trauma. The VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System offers a variety of services to assist Veterans who have experienced MST. Treatment for all mental and physical health conditions related to MST is free, and you may be eligible to receive free MST care even if you are not eligible for other VA care.

    K.H. recommends this program to any Veterans who have suffered through MST in silence.

    “I know it’s hard to talk about,” she said. “But with the awesome program offered by the VA, I pray anyone who is suffering comes to get the help that is offered from this program. It really does help. I can honestly say I don’t know how I managed this long, or where I would be if I hadn’t found this program with such great staff who really wanted to help me in my recovery.”

    Source

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  • 1 Star Gen

     

    After reporting her sexual assault, a now-retired lieutenant colonel with the West Virginia Army National Guard was retaliated against by a brigadier general, the Defense Department's inspector general said in a new report.

  • Sexual assault 002

     

    Men and women assigned to Navy ships at sea are far more likely to be sexually assaulted than service members at bases elsewhere across the force, according to a new Defense Department report.

    Across the services, the safest places to work were at the Pentagon or other national capital region headquarters buildings, according to the report.

    The Pentagon released the data on Friday as part of a much-anticipated report, that for the first time looks at the likelihood of sexual assault on a military installation or ship and ranks them by service.

    The rankings were commissioned by the Defense Department and aim to help military officials to better identify the risk factors for sexual assault and how to most effectively deploy prevention and response efforts.

    It is based on 2014 data that was gathered through more than 170,000 surveys of active-duty service members collected by the RAND Corporation. Because of the five-year time lag, defense officials said the rankings do not reflect what the most dangerous bases are today. The study faced other limitations too, such as that assaults reported that were linked to a base could have occurred off-base or off-ship, such as while on liberty or leave. But the information is still jarring:

    NAVY

    The risk for sexual assault was highest for men and women aboard the Navy’s ships. For men, “all but one of Navy men’s highest-risk installations are ships or clusters of ships, including five aircraft carriers." For women, of the 15 installations with highest risk for women, “13 are ships or clusters of ships, including eight of the ten aircraft carriers.”

    In one stunning example, RAND found that “on one of these ships, we estimate that close to one in every 25 men was sexually assaulted in FY 2014.”

    But RAND won’t name the ship, saying it was trying to respect the anonymity of the respondents. In the survey, RAND eliminated ships and bases with fewer than 50 survey responses, or with ship or base populations of less than 100 personnel.

    For Navy women, ships were particularly dangerous, according to the report.

    “Our model estimates that more than 10 percent of all women experienced a sexual assault at each of these high-risk installations over a one-year period, and more than 15 percent of all women were assaulted at two of them,” the report found.

    For both men and women, Navy ships assigned to the FPO code 96671 — which based on Navy data includes cruisers Champlain and Lake Erie, submarines Louisiana and Louisville, and destroyer William P. Lawrence — “are associated with risk more than 100 percent greater than the average installation-specific risk in the Navy," RAND found.

    Navy officials did not receive an advanced copy of the RAND report but told Military Times that they look forward to working with the think tank on future surveys.

    “We are aware of the 2016 RAND Military Workplace Study Survey, and we value the approaches that RAND takes to cutting edge research," the officials said in a written statement emailed to Military Times.

    "The Navy has further engaged with RAND to help us take a closer look at the conclusions of this report by conducting follow-on projects to provide more actionable information about where sexual assault risk is highest and lowest in the Navy.

    “This information will be vital to us in determining where and how to target training, prevention and response resources. We take sexual assault seriously and specifically want to understand the ‘why’ presented by the data. Identifying protective and risk factors is essential to mitigating the risk of sexual assault for our sailors.”

    ARMY

    Fort Drum in upstate New York was one of the most dangerous places for both Army men and women in terms of risk of sexual assault.

    For Army women, the top five locations in terms of risk of sexual assault included Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Osan Air Base, Korea; Fort Drum; Okinawa, Japan; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

    For men, the top five locations with the highest risk were located in Italy; at Fort Myer, Virginia; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Drum; and Rose Barracks, Germany.

    “While the lowest-risk installations for men are dominated by small, command or support installations, the highest-risk list includes many installations with a more prominent combat unit presence,” the study found.

    For the Army, a cross section of the top 15 most dangerous bases for men and women showed that "almost half of these highest-risk installations are identical,” the study found, suggesting that location or culture at those locations could be a contributing factor that could be addressed in further study, said Nate Galbreath, director of DoD’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office.

    “The Army remains fully committed to reducing sexual assault and sexual harassment in its ranks,” the Army said in a statement to Military Times. “RAND’s risk estimates, which are based on survey data from over four years ago, may help focus ongoing efforts to combat these harmful behaviors. While prevalence rates of sexual assault among the force have declined, the Army continues to integrate and update prevention programs.”

    AIR FORCE

    Undergraduate pilot training bases were among the most dangerous places for both Air Force men and women for the risk for sexual assault, the report found.

    For women, the top five installations in terms of risk were Vance Air Force Base, Okla.; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; and Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.

    For men, the top five installations in terms of risk of sexual assault were Altus Air Force Base; Laughlin Air Force Base; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington D.C.' Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; and Columbus Air Force Base.

    MARINE CORPS

    Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, in California, was one of the top five most dangerous places for male and female Marines for risk of sexual assault, the report found.

    Responses for male Marines showed that the other most risky locations to be assigned included Japan, Korea, and Afghanistan.

    For female Marines, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, MCAS Beaufort, MCAS New River and USMC Mobile, 3rd Marine Logistics Group were reported to have the highest risk of sexual assault.

    In a statement, the Marines said more research is needed to understand whether increased risk is really tied to an installation.

    “The RAND study documented differences in sexual assault risk across installations; the reasons for the variations in the levels of risk is not highlighted in this report,” said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Craig Thomas. “There are many possible causes for differences, such as command climate, alcohol availability and price, crime rates in the surrounding civilian communities, or the transitory presence of one or more sexual offenders. Although the current study cannot identify the relationship between risk factors and risk estimates, additional research may help answer these questions.”

    Working to reduce risk

    Galbreath said that now that DoD has the data, it will be able to look for installations where additional steps can be taken to reduce the risk of sexual assault. For example, around 2015, at Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago, DoD noticed a spike in sexual assault reports and decided to take a closer look.

    “What the Navy found out is that, locally there, on the weekends, all of the recruits were going off base and having hotel parties. And a lot of these hotel parties involved alcohol. And a lot of those situations ended up with sailors getting sexually assaulted,” Galbreath said.

    The Navy got together with area hotel owners, Galbreath said, and told them, “If you have a bunch of sailors having a party, give us a call, we’ll be there, we’ll break it up we’ll haul everybody back to base.”

    With that, and training initiatives, Galbreath said, the numbers started to improve.

    “Sexual assault began to fall,” Galbreath said. "So that’s the kind of local work [that can reduce risk of attack]. But there’s 270 places that we have to do that at.”

    The next survey is currently getting sent to respondents now, Galbreath said, and the results should be available in April.

    Source

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  • MST Claims Denied

     

    More and more active US service members are reporting sexual abuse. So are Veterans—but a recent report found that at least 1,300 sexual trauma claims may have been wrongly declined by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

    In 2017 alone, more than 5,200 active members (pdf, p.9) of the US military reported they’d been sexually abused during service. This is a 10% increase over the previous year, likely linked to increased attention and legislative action in recent years. Still, the cases that get reported are only a small percentage (pdf, p.11) of total incidents, according to the Department of Defense’s estimates.

    Veterans were even more likely to come forward with stories of sexual abuse or harassment in the military. Over the past three years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says it processed about 12,000 claims annually for disability compensation and other benefits due to sexual trauma. Seventy-nine percent of claimants were women.

    Since 2011, VA guidelines have supported victims in their process of coming forward. The agency applies a so-called “liberal approach” to to the kind of evidence of abuse it accepts: For instance, it looks for circumstantial “markers” that would corroborate the survivor’s claim, such as changes in behavior, substance abuse, unexplained leave of absence, changes in relationships.

    Yet the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that many claims have been reviewed inadequately. According to a report released on Aug. 21, about 1,300 claims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) connected to sexual trauma during military service were denied without following the correct procedure between April and September 2017 alone.

    The OIG sampled 169 claims filed during that period and found that half—82 cases—had been mishandled and wrongly rejected for simple procedural errors. The causes of such mishandling have been found to be primarily procedural: In 28% of cases, survivors who qualified for medical examinations to confirm their claims were not given one. In 13% of cases, there was a failure in gathering evidence. In 11%, the Veterans filing the claims were not contacted by the VA’s officers reviewing the claims. And in 10% of cases, the OIG found that reviewers misjudged claims of sexual abuse due to incomplete and controversial information.

    This only reflects a few months worth of processing, which means that thousands more claims may have been mishandled over the years. According to the report, reviewers may not have received adequate training, and did not follow guidelines and procedures. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire has issued a letter to the VA demanding specific details about how it intends to move forward in the review process.

    The VA told Quartz that it concurs with and approves of the OIG’s recommendations, and that it will begin implementing right away. “We know this is an area where the department can improve,” a spokesperson said, adding that the VA has required all officers processing claims to take specific training to handle military sexual assault.

    Further, the agency will review all denied claims decided between October 2016 and June 2018. “If mistakes were made,” the spokesperson said, “we will fix them in order to ensure affected Veterans are getting all of the support, benefits and services they have earned.”

    Source

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