- - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

For many wounded warriors, it is assumed that if they suffer from post-traumatic stress and/or a traumatic brain injury these injuries were a result of combat training or combat. The concept that a service member or veteran could suffer from post-traumatic stress or a brain injury due to military sexual trauma (also referred to as military sexual assault) is virtually non-existent. When a man or woman is sexually traumatized by an individual or group within the military, the scars and aftermath can be just as devastating as being wounded in battle.

According to a the 2014 Sexual Assault Prevention Reports (SAPRO), there were 1,208 reports of sexual assault on males, 4,852 reports of sexual assaults on females and 516 sexual assaults prior to service. The survey used the Department of Defense’s terms of sexual crimes that are prohibited by the Uniformed Code of Military Justice to include abusive sexual contact and rape.

I spoke with BriGette McCoy, founder of the Women Veteran Social Justice, as well as a survivor of sexual trauma at the hands of other service members. Ms. McCoy has testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about her experience. When I talked with Ms. McCoy, she expressed frustration that there was no available training or resource for those close to her. She missed a lot of appointments due to being triggered by the Department of veterans Affairs (VA) and the difficulty opening up about her experience.

During my conversation with Ms. McCoy, I wondered about how many veterans who currently receiving medical care, yet fail to let their medical providers know that they were sexually assaulted. For instance, would it be easier for a male veteran to say his post-traumatic stress was from a combat-related incident than admitting to being sexually assaulted? How many military caregivers are struggling with their activities of daily living due to the scars left by sexual trauma? There is no such thing as a gentle rape or sexual assault. By not properly educating military caregivers as to how to care for a wounded warrior who suffered from sexual trauma, both the caregiver and veteran are being set on a path of ineffective treatment.

Trying to find a military caregiver of a wounded warrior who suffers from sexual trauma, to talk publicly, was difficult. I had many private conversations, however not one felt comfortable having their story published. There is such shame and guilt about what happened, as well a fear of possible repercussions or even triggering their warrior with having to review the event(s).

Males who were sexually assaulted in the military were more likely to report that their assault was related to a hazing type incident, when compared with female victims, according to SAPRO. The SAPRO reports also confirmed my earlier question by stating that “when men do seek medical attention after a sexual assault, they often seek assistance for secondary injuries without revealing the sexual assault that led to those injuries.” I feel that this is why the men especially were very hesitant to speak publicly with me, because even in their mind, men do not get raped.

When looking for aids or support to help a military caregiver become better educated about caring for someone who suffers from a military sexual trauma or MST, there is a lack of information. Although the veteran that I care for did not experience MST, I have become concerned about the lack of information for other caregivers who do. I called the Veteran Affair’s office in Washington, D.C., and asked if there were any type of training specifically for caregivers of veterans with MST, and was informed that the VA did not have anything.

However, the VA recognized that this is a need and informed me that they will work to develop information for caregivers of veterans with MST. This inclusion of the caregiver in the veteran’s treatment is much needed.

To help military caregivers learn about caring for a veteran who experienced sexual assault in the military, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation along with Easter Seals will be focusing this month’s webinar on caring for female veterans to include helping a veteran who experienced military sexual trauma. The webinar is scheduled for July 30 at 1 pm EST. These webinars are recorded and can be accessed at any time for reference.

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