This Las Vegas VA Group Teaches Female Veterans How To Combat Misery And Fight For Their Own Relief.
By PTSDJournal Staff
When most people think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, images of male soldiers haunted by violent combat situations typically come to mind. There’s also the immediate connection associated with individuals who perpetrate violent crimes, such as school shootings or other types of mass attacks.
What most people probably don’t picture is the image of a female veteran. But the facts show many female veterans experience their own troubling scenarios with PTSD—from unwanted sexual advances to difficulty getting pregnant. Not to mention the troubling memories of combat.
For two veterans who suffered multiple assaults during their military careers, regular attendance at a women’s anger management group at the Southern Nevada VA was a critical lifeline for the ladies getting back their self-esteem, while also understanding they need help. These weekly meetings became the turning point for both veterans in realizing they had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because they are not comfortable revealing their names, we agreed to their request to not use their real names. For one Vietnam-era vet who worked in the Air Force for two decades, frequent physical altercations with two of her daughters pushed her to take action. She loved her children. She knew that inside. But she was never able to express it outside. “I’d gone to the VA before and told them I didn’t feel emotionally attached to my children,” she said. “I told them that I felt dangerous, numb, but they ignored me. Then one day, I had one of my daughters up against a wall and I was holding her by the throat. The neighbors threatened to call the police. I knew I needed help.”
Another veteran, who served five years in the Army in the ‘80s, rage from being assaulted led to inward pain. She inflicted burns and cuts upon herself, attempted suicide and experienced panic and anxiety attacks that left her unable to hold a job. “My anger came because I had to take [what happened to me],” she said. “I was so used to people taking from me. I felt other people had authority and I wasn’t allowed to say no. I was taking my anger out on myself. I realized from the other ladies in the group that I wasn’t the only one.”
The women’s anger became manageable following group counseling at a West Coast Veterans Administration center. Led by a female counselor, the efforts at the VA center is indicative of a nationwide effort by the VA to improve treating the needs of female vets. As the number of women in the military has grown over the past three decades to 15 percent, physical and mental health care quality has lagged behind. The majority of women vets in the anger management groups have experienced varying degrees of “military sexual trauma,” dubbed MST by the Department of Defense. According to VA literature on mental health, “Sexual assault is more likely to result in symptoms of PTSD than are most other types of trauma, including combat.” Recent research reveals the shocking level of military sexual trauma and the risk of suicide among female veterans. A study of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars found that 41 percent of women and 4 percent of men experienced military sexual trauma. Another study by the VA showed the suicide rate among young women veterans is nearly 12 times the rate of non-veterans. Many times female soldiers are stationed in locations where they grossly outnumbered by men. The atmosphere can lead to unwanted advances and more disturbing sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Consider, when women enter the military they too do it for their country. And similar to men, when they come home they find that life is still filled with traps of trouble. Emotionally fragile, having a place where they can speak freely helps female veterans recognize they are not alone. Having a dedicated women’s anger management group at the VA Women’s Clinic brings them together. Unlike coed group sessions, where it’s much tougher for women to disclose the depth of their experiences, the women don’t hold back. They feel heard. The atmosphere makes them feel like their problems are important because it’s not like the predominantly male-oriented sessions that sometimes provoked defensiveness instead of supportiveness from the male veterans. This way they don’t have to be guarded.
The program has a purposeful process. The eight-week, 90-minute sessions start with group members sharing the experiences they had in the past week. The goal was to provide an outlet for female veterans to talk openly about their anger issues and triggers and give them the tools to avoid losing control when heated situations arise. Because it was female only, not only did they feel easier talking and expressing themselves, they discovered they had similar issues.
In the end, it seems the magic is the group idea works because it’s all about building trust.