Thursday, September 5, 2013

One fifth of OEF and OIF female veterans show signs of MST

One-fifth of female veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan show signs of sexual trauma
Many women aren't comfortable with the VA, and don't seek treatment
Center for Public Integrity
By Caitlin Cruz Asha Anchan
5 hours ago

At least one in five female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has screened positive for military sexual trauma (MST) once back home, Department of Veterans Affairs records show. And this may understate the crisis, experts say, because this number only counts women who go to the VA for help.

Young female veterans — those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — often don’t show up for their first VA appointments, if they show up at all, said Ann LeFevre, MST coordinator at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. “They think they’re alone and they don’t want to talk about it,” LeFevre said. “Especially with new returners, it takes a lot to get them on the VA campus. It can remind them of their base where the assault occurred.”

The assault itself defies the discipline and values of the armed forces, but the problem is exacerbated, experts say, when victims report an assault and their allegations are met with skepticism and possible retaliation.

Even after their military service is over, many sexual assault victims are reluctant to approach the VA, a system intertwined with the military and perceived at times as prescribing drugs instead of meeting their treatment needs.

“There’s a disconnect between what survivors believe they need and the educated treatment community as to what is necessary and helpful,” said Mylea Charvat, a fellow in clinical neuroscience with the Stanford School of Medicine.
But many veterans feel lost in the void between these two large bureaucracies.

Women like Jessie de Leon and Corey Barrows are veterans who feel the military failed them — not only because the assaults occurred, but also because of what they consider inadequate responses once they returned from their deployments. As a result, they sought their own means of treatment.

“For a while it’s just like I was numb to the world. Just fake happiness, drug-induced happiness,” said de Leon, who was raped while serving as an Army medic in Bamberg, Germany, from 2007 to 2009. “I didn’t realize that this process was going to be more hindering to me in trying to recover from it than it was helping me.”

As a medic, she examined soldiers and their families at the health clinic in Germany and prepared soldiers to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. She also comforted families who lost soldiers in the war.

But back home in Florida, de Leon found no comfort with therapists at the West Palm Beach VA. They didn’t seem to understand the impact of her rape. Their recommended treatment consisted of prescription drugs for sleeping, anxiety and depression.
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