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Women Work Through Trauma Together

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by batgirl, Jul 17, 2007.

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  1. batgirl

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    "When you leave here, you don't go away by yourselves."

    Chaplain Jack Hyatt looked straight at the row of six women seated before him. They sat quietly, teary-eyed and uncertain of their immediate futures. It took them two months to get here. It took the torment of releasing memories repressed by years of shame and fear. But they made it.

    "The pain that you go through to receive life again is a special thing," he continued.

    Help for female veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual trauma is available throughout the nation and often at low or no cost.

    The six women - Sabrina, Sylvia, Jennifer, Patty, Debra and Morgan - have all served their country, but at great personal cost. All have experienced some form of trauma related to combat, sexual assault or harassment. Many of them, out of frustration, isolated themselves from loved ones, turned to drugs or tried to take their own lives.

    All six ended up at the Women's Trauma Recovery Program at Menlo Park, a 60-day residential treatment offered by the Women's Mental Health Center under the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

    Most female veterans who enter the program are looking to get their lives back, said Gloria Grace, a social worker and co-director of the program. What they get are the tools to make that happen.

    Sabrina Bradley commanded a unit of troops in a tour of duty during Operation Desert Storm in 1990 as an Army lieutenant colonel in the Medical Services Corps. But 30 years of service with near daily exposure to harassment and discrimination left her in 2005 isolated in her home with little contact with the outside world. The 51-year-old El Dorado Hills woman was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, one year later.

    "I wasn't able to sleep. I wasn't able to eat," Bradley said. "I was just going through too many changes, and my family got concerned."

    That's when she was referred by a therapist to the 60-day residence program for female veterans. The program helps women deal with multiple sources of trauma. It's not uncommon for veterans to be living with PTSD and military sexual trauma, according to Dr. Darrah Westrup, a clinical psychologist and director of the Women's Mental Health Center.

    A total of 3,796 women who left the military since Sept. 11, 2001, and sought VA care were thought to have PTSD, and an additional 500 sought mental services for chemical dependency, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Among all female veterans using VA services, about one in five screened positive for military sexual trauma, roughly 20 times the rate of male veterans.

    Many of those women, like Bradley, come to the trauma recovery program when other counseling efforts have failed. Participants are of all ages, though more and more are veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Westrup said.

    "They're wanting to prove women can do it, that they don't fall apart in stressful situations and that they're up to the task," she added. "The standards they're holding themselves to are incredibly high."

    In individual and group appointments, attendees undergo exposure therapy, where they are made to vividly recount their causes for trauma.

    "You take a walk in the trauma," Grace said. "It's revisiting it with all the sights and sounds and emotions of it."

    The retelling is meant to remove the stigma and fear of having others find out, Grace added, and is meant to be a freeing experience.

    To Navy veteran Patty Kirkland of Los Angeles, that meant reliving the trauma of being sexually assaulted in a military hospital in the 1980s. She served active duty stateside at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego from 1981 to 1986.

    What she went through destroyed her faith in men, Kirkland admitted. The staff members at Menlo Park, the males in particular, helped her get some of that trust back.

    "I can say today there are good men in the world," she told them at the graduation ceremony. "And that's big for me; that's big. I can now include you in my world."

    Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used, is on active duty as an Army band member. She is a flute player stationed at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Quiet and bespectacled, she was reluctant to give details about how she came to the program, though she said she was referred by a therapist after a suicide attempt.

    During the program, she and Kirkland spent time with Hyatt and his wife, Mary, another VA chaplain, doing purification rituals in an American Indian sweat lodge on the hospital campus.

    After the graduation ceremony, Jennifer said her goodbyes to staff members and fellow female veterans. In her hand she held a bundle of dried sage, a red cloth and an abalone shell the Hyatts had given her and Kirkland to continue the ritual at home.

    "Even though the future is pretty scary from here, I'm very sure I can manage it," she said with a smile.

    After all, she and the other women in her cohort may be leaving, but they know they are not alone.

    Source: Sara Cardine, Recordnet.com
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