“A poison in the system”: the epidemic of military sexual assault

In 2011, the Veterans Benefits Administration lowered the evidence threshold for veterans to “prove” that they have been sexually assaulted, which helps them qualify for PTSD-related disability benefits. A 2018 report by the VA Inspector General found that the agency had nonetheless dismissed 46% of all medical claims related to military sexual trauma-induced PTSD and that nearly half of those denied claims were wrong. processed.

For the retired Omega women, the military had won their trust and allegiance, then betrayed them over and over again, fueling feelings of doubt and shame and causing them to question their self-esteem. “When the organization lets you down in this deep way, I feel like that’s one of the reasons trauma is so powerful, because it’s at the heart of identity,” Thomas said. .

When veterans access VA treatment, they often improve, although some survivors of sexual assault find recommended diets difficult. A popular approach used by the VA to treat PTSD is prolonged exposure therapy, which requires veterans to repeatedly revisit the memory of the trauma and recount it aloud in detail, which can be difficult for survivors. sexual assault. Another common treatment is Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT, which teaches veterans to identify and modify inaccurate and distressing thoughts about each of their traumas. But Shuble, for her part, found the CPT excruciating, as therapy focused on one trauma at a time and she had experienced countless trauma between her sexual trauma and her combat experiences. “It was horrible,” she said. “It wasn’t effective for me.”

The women at the Omega Institute were receiving a form of therapy developed by psychologist Lori S. Katz, an energetic woman who has worked for the VA since 1991 and has held this retreat every year since 2015 (except during the pandemic) at the institute. , which offers scholarships for accommodation, board and tuition, but not for travel costs. His program, called Warrior Renew, is based in part on the idea that people process information both rationally and emotionally, and that lifelong healing requires harnessing that emotional side through metaphors and images. Through this holistic approach, Veterans learn to manage their symptoms of trauma, resolve feelings of anger, self-blame, and injustice, identify problematic patterns in their lives (such as harmful relationships) and do facing feelings of loss.

All trauma survivors, Katz explained to the retired women, come back to the questions: Why did this happen to me? What did I do? “You look back at the event and say, ‘I should never have gotten in that car. I should never have agreed to do that. What is wrong with me? I’m so stupid. ‘ And we blame ourselves. We inevitably get there, ”Katz said. The women in the room, some of whom were crying, all nodded. Military commanders sometimes blame victims for their assaults, making the problem worse. “There is an emphasis on, ‘Well, what was she doing? What was she wearing? And that has nothing to do with what happened, ”Katz said.

Perhaps most importantly, the Warrior Renew program takes place in a group setting, where women can bond and build relationships that will help them avoid feeling isolated enough to act on suicidal thoughts. “One of the things that can counteract that risk is the connection,” Katz told The Retired Women. “You have a connection, and you have a new family and people who understand it. It is a very important part of healing. As one of the retired women, who called herself Awesome, told the group at one point, “We are queens and we are here to mend each other’s crowns.

Shuble had never shared her assaults with a group before, and when she was done, she could barely speak. The room was buzzing with grief, pride, anger. All the women in the room believed her – it was as if they were giving Shuble, for the first time, a solid foundation on which to rest his heavy, unstable pain. Tears streaming down his face, Shuble turned to Katz and thanked her. “This is the first real healing I have had,” she said.

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