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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

PTSD and the dinosaur thinking behind it

Hello Invisible Readers,

It's been a long time since I've paid you a visit.  A lot has happened since we last chatted but today I want to focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  You hear that term all the time but do you really know what it is?  PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Over time it's had many names.  It's been called battle fatigue, shell shock, traumatic war neurosis and many other names.  PTSD can develop after exposure to a traumatic event.  The most common belief is that combat Veterans are the most stricken population with PTSD.  The truth is, PTSD can be brought on by more than just combat.  Just ask the thousands of women Veterans who have submitted claims for benefits relating to a diagnosis of PTSD.

There's a catch 22, Invisible Reader.  Women, at least in the US Military, are not allowed in combat.  Are you laughing yet?  We all know that women are exposed to combat conditions daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do I know this?  Count the number of women who are being awarded the Combat Action Badge.  Would they be awarded the CAB if they weren't in combat?  I know a female Veteran whose NCOER reflects 13 confirmed kills.   I've seen it with my own eyes.  What further proof do you need?  But there is another enemy that military service women fight.  It's an enemy that doesn't get a lot of publicity but it is an enemy that haunts the memories and nightmares of many US military service women.  Do you know who this enemy is, Invisible Reader?  Have you guessed?  Try this one on for size.  The enemy we fight is US military service men.  That's right.  For decades, military women have been fighting off military service men.  For those of us who lose that battle, it's something we live with for the rest of our lives.

Here is another battle we fight.  How about women who have all the symptoms of PTSD, have a diagnosis of PTSD from one or two or three mental health care officials and then another health care official says, "You don't have PTSD.  Only men who serve in combat get PTSD."  We fight that battle, too.  I know that battle personally.  I was told that one by a PSTD Trauma Counselor.  Yes, Invisible Reader, there are counselors out there who believe that victims of military sexual trauma can't have PTSD because they did not fight in combat.  Apparently, they believe sexual abuse is not a traumatic event.

Imagine being betrayed by another soldier.   You work side by side every day with male soldiers.  You depend on these men to have your back.  You all wear the same uniform.  You all take the same oath.  You all fight the same enemy.  And then one day you are walking alone and you are grabbed from behind, thrown in the bushes and you're brutally raped and beaten.  Guess who your attacker is?  It's another soldier.  The same soldier who is supposed to have your back.  That same soldier you have worked with, trusted, fought with day after day after day.  Your own kind has now become the enemy.

How about this scenario.  You're a woman and you go in for an annual GYN exam at the Troop Medical Clinic (TMC).  An Army doctor is performing the exam.  You trust this doctor.  He's a fellow soldier and a doctor.  You don't expect that he is going to do or be anything besides a professional.  You undress, get on the table, put your feet in the stirrups.  Instead of calling in a chaperon,  the male doctor, an Army officer proceeds with --- not an exam, but molests you.  You are powerless to stop him.  He's totally betrayed your trust.  He's become the enemy.  How will you ever trust another male, military doctor again?

Both of these are examples of events than can and do cause PTSD.  They are classified as Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and can be service connected as such.  However, getting service connection for MST is a difficult battle.  Unless the victim has reported the assault, there will be no record.  Many women are afraid of reporting sexual assault for fear of retaliation.  They are afraid of reporting the assault for fear of being humiliated by the authorities.  I sat in on a Court Marital with a friend who had been brutally raped and beaten back in 1978.  Her attacker's attorney did his very best to make her look like a whore when she was on the witness stand.  It didn't matter that there were pictures of her on a board in the courtroom, visible to all, showing the bruises and cuts all over her body that he'd inflicted on her.  When his sentence was read, he received 6 months.  He and his wife actually laughed out loud when the sentence was read.  Six months for a brutal rape and beating and my friend has to live with the memories of that rape for the rest of her life.

There are counselors out there that believe MST survivors can't have PTSD because they "ONLY" suffered military sexual trauma.  I know this to be fact.  I witnessed it first hand.  The doctor in question was reported.  The only recourse was, get this ... "Cancel your appoint with that doctor.  Don't go see her again."  How about something like this:  We'll educate that doctor.  We'll retrain that doctor.  Wouldn't that have been a better answer?  Nope.  They chose to ignore the problem and that doctor will continue to traumatize other MST victims by telling them they "only" suffered through military sexual trauma.  I say, GET RID OF THOSE FRIGGIN DINOSAURS and replace them with more compassionate doctors.  Give them doctors who understand what we've been through.  No doctor should ever belittle a patient. 

If you are an MST survivor who has been denied a PTSD service connection for military sexual trauma, I'd like to hear from you.  You have my word that I will keep your identity confidential.  Let's call this an informal poll.  I'm just curious to see how many of you have been denied service connection because of an idiot counselor.

Until the next time....

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