Woman Veteran sexually harassed while going for rape counseling at the VA

Hello. I posted this several places. I hope that somebody at the VA can read this and do something about it. I am a 25 year old woman veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that resulted from being raped while serving in the U.S Army. Every single time that I go for rape counseling at the Phoenix VA Medical Center I get sexually harassed by other patients. No matter how bad I look the harassment is inevitable.

One recent afternoon I was still crying after my counseling session. I was waiting for the elevator to go to another appointment. I had my head down and tears rolling down my cheeks when a man wearing a Vietnam Veteran ball cap came up to me, put his arm around my shoulders and told me that I am “too pretty to be crying”. I pushed him away from me and it offended him. He asked why I was acting so “bitchy” if he was “only trying to help me.”

Here is a man that is old enough to be my father and he felt entitled to just come up to me, comment on my looks, tell me my emotions are invalid and then touch me.

I wish that I can say that this was an isolated incident. As a young woman veteran being sexually harassed or even worse when I go for rape counseling at the VA is something that I have to suffer through every week. When you complain to anyone in position at the VA regardless if it is the patient advocate or the women veteran program manager or even the office of the VA’s Director they refuse to take any actions and it is always “I am sorry that you feel this way” as if feeling bad for being sexually harassed when going for rape counseling is somehow my fault.

I have spoken to other women veterans that feel the same exact way. Some even stopped going to the PhoenixVA all together and are ignoring their health need. Women are veterans too. We earned the right to go to the VA for treatment. However when even the staff at the PhoenixVA sees nothing wrong with women veterans being sexually harassed on a regular basis how are things ever going to change?

There are an estimated 19,000 rapes each year in the military. Roughly 10% of all rapes are ever reported. Over 98% of rapists in the military never spend a day in prison and almost all of them receive an Honorable Discharge when they leave the service. Many of these rapists end up at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and continue to terrorize their female comrades.

20 comments

  1. This is not right. I am serious ticked off about this. We’re supposed to feel safe with talking about rape at the VA now?!?!?!

  2. Same thing happens to me in Cleveland. I go for counseling at the Vet Center but for everything else I am at the VA and am always sexually harassed. One trick is to wear scrubs to look like you work there. They do not harass employees as much as they harass other veterans.

    Whatever you do just do not wear a skirt or a suit!

  3. I am mother of MST survivor. I have experienced secondary PTSD with involving myself with my daughter as her health advocate and her caregiver. I too am a sexually assaulted survivor in civilian life. From what you have described, the MST is still very raw to you with strong emotions.

    Taking from a different perspective on the Vietnam Vet, it was his attempt to comfort you, since he recognize the emotional state you were in. Unfortunately he did not know that you are still sensitive to unwelcome hug. I do not believe it was his intention to sexually harass you, of course this is my perspective. I guess I would have said,” Thank you for caring but I am uncomfortable with hugging. I am a MST survivor.” The issue I am bringing here is the disclosure, if necessary
    I will disclose to people that I am a stroke survivor and I have difficulty with auditory processing. Then I ask them to repeat what they said.

    I too am undergoing therapy with my health provider regarding my past sexual assault experience. It sometimes feels too fresh. Yes I cry too, being 62 year old. But I recognize that I must gain a real perspective on me because my behavior and outlook does effect my relationships with people I care.

    I commend you for seeking help at the Phoenix VA for MST. It is a matter of educating your fellow veterans on how MST survivors feel. My daughter and other women veterans have done so here in the Bay Area. Take care

    1. It is never ever ever okay to touch someone without their permission. Handing her a tissue and asking her if she is okay would be sufficient enough. Since he crossed the line and not only touched her but put his arms around her that is by definition sexual harassment. You can not just go up to a stranger and hug them regardless if it is at the VA or anywhere else. How would you feel if you were in a public place and some random man comes up to you and touch you? I bet you wouldn’t like it.

      She is 25 years old. She probably just coming to terms with what happened to her. I am not sure how long she been out but probably not that long since she is so young. She can not just be an advocate for herself when she needs to get help first.

    2. I agree with you Elaine………I have been in mental health treatment at the Phoenix/VA ( for PTSD w/ Major Depression due to MST) for 7 years now………I remember when I felt that way too. I have been on medication & in therapy since 1994 , so I have learned to BREATHE through some very upsetting / terrifying moments at VA Hospitals ( in several states). All I can say is, it DOES get better if you stick with treatment ….there is no cure but, you can learn HOW to live with it. IF you stay in treatment ( & on your meds, as we tend to try going off our meds now and then ) it WILL be worth the struggle, the sweat & tears! You must learn to : A. Do some deep breathing to calm yourself B. Make your needs known( see Elaines’ suggestion above ) !!!! C. Learn HOW to take care of yourself now ( via therapy ) with AT LEAST the same love & attention you would give to your BEST FRIEND ( we are GREAT at taking care of EVERYBODY else first )……… eventually you will learn to do even better for yourself than that ! Phoenix VAs’ Womens’ PTSD due to MST Group is a Great group……….set yourself up with once a month appts. with a Psychiatrist ( about your meds ) and maybe 2x monthly one on one therapy and Group Therapy once every week…..just a suggestion and, absolutely between you & your Dr………may not be necessary for you & I only know /can share my experience ( I lived with my mental illnesses undiagnosed & untreated for more than at least 24 years………so I will be most likely on meds and in some sort of therapy for a very, very, long time) . I accept who I am now and, I am so grateful to be a Veteran……….can you imagine what it would mean for you if you weren’t and, didn’t have insurance and/or couldn’t work? There is no disability/mental health/financial/housing help for a lot of people nowadays……..so sad…..so you ACCEPT that sometimes imperfect helping hand and, don’t give up ! Get with other Women Veterans’ like you (MST survivors ) …..they will be your lifeline !!! God Bless You & a nice, safe cyber hug to you !

      Kathie
      USAF Veteran

      1. That is part of what is wrong with the VA. I went to the VA (not Phoenix but looks to me that Phoenix does the same thing) and it was always “take all of these pills and you’ll feel better” Well I did that for 2 years immediately after leaving the Marines and it was the worst 2 years of my life. Quite frankly I do not remember it–I was always soo drugged out by the medication given to me that I lost 2 years of my life. I had a pill to go to sleep, a pill to keep me awake, a pill to make me not sad (which left me numb) a pill to undo the numbness, a pill to numb me when I felt emotions again. I gained 40 pounds, lost friendship, actually believed that I was worthless of ever working again (cause the VA told me that I should not be working and I believed them). Finally my husband and my family convinced me to go off all the medication cold turkey and I now feel much better. Been 04 years and could not be happier. I was finally able to put my college degree to good use. I have a very successful job making 6 digits. I have a great family life and tons of friends (veterans and non-veterans). I was tired of being the VA guinea pig–telling me to try pill after pill and convincing me not to work so that I can go to the VA and they can test medication on me. If you do not think you are anything more than a human guinea pig you got it all wrong. I am now fortunate to have private health insurance. I told my doctor (who is the leading doctor in my city) about all the medication that the VA put me on. She was in absolute shock that they would prescribe some of what they did to help with post rape syndrome and PTSD.

        Being raped is not a life sentence. I was recently talking to a 21 year old MST survivor who was in the process of getting kicked out the military for reporting rape. She asked me if this means that she can no longer work again. I asked her why is she asking me this. She told me that she was told by a “victim advocate” to “fight to win her 100% disability” because she “earned it”. I almost lost it. Somebody told me the same thing and I believed them. Didn’t want her to ruin her life like I almost did. I told her that yes, she is eligible to be on VA disability and should apply for it HOWEVER there are millions of rape survivors (military and non-military) who are working, very successful and very happy. I told her that I think she is worth more than the $2600 or whatever it is nowadays of 100% compensation. She agreed and is starting college in the fall. Thank god. Rape survivors can become doctors, politicians, business execs, actors, teachers, basically in just every career out there you’ll find rape survivors and they are all doing exceptionally well. My city councilwoman recently came out that she is a rape survivor. A local news anchor also went on air to say that she was raped. Those are two female role models in my community and kudos to them to say that they have been raped.

  4. I feel the same way. I wrote about my experience here: http://mydutytospeak.com/2012/06/17/veteran-sexually-harassed-at-detroit-va/

    I heard that several VA are taking initiatives to fix this problem. I think Seattle reconstructed their entire VA so that women veterans can have a separate entrance and their own clinic to get treatment without having to go through the rest of the VA. Some VAs half-ass it only having the OBGYN clinic separate but that does not solve anything. Seattle VA also have childcare. They are really good. Sadly, I do not live in Seattle but Detroit where I have to go through the same thing that you are talking about. In my case the women veteran program manager told me that she can not do anything because if she was to talk to the veteran or if anyone would talk to those who harass us that it is a violation of HIPAA. Who knows if it is true or if she is just being lazy.

    1. Michelle is exactly right, the Seattle VA redesigned its Women’s Clinic entry several years ago for just this reason. There is no reason that it can’t happen at other VA hospitals.

      As for the program manager saying she can’t do anything because of HIPAA, it isn’t true. She’s being a coward. She is not allowed to disclose your personal health information, but that doesn’t mean she can’t tell people that you all are being harassed. If she gave a real damn about the people she’s supposed to be serving, she would be fighting to get a separate clinic entrance, or something to mitigate the problem. I would complain to the head of the hospital that the women’s program manager is failing the women in the program.

    2. She is not being lazy at all. It would be directly disclosing your medical history and diagnosis to the person harassing you or anyone she got involved. She can’t help you without violating HIPAA based on the fact that your problem is directly related to your treatment.

      I know this is probably not at all helpful, but if you are within distance of the Ann Arbor VA, I have not seen anything inappropriate happen there.

      For future posters: I’m not saying it has never happened there, just that I have not seen it, and I have in other VA clinics that were not in remote areas. In a remote area, I have seen the situation that the original poster mentioned where someone much older thought he was comforting a younger woman, about my age at the time (mid to late 20’s) thinking she was there for combat/violence related ptsd under the assumption everyone else was (save . He put his arm around her and said something like “Hey, hey, we’ve all been there. It’s in the past. Your young and beautiful and have your whole life.” She has the presence of mind to say something to the effect of, “I know your trying to help but I am a rape survivor.” To which he said “Jesus Christ– I’m SO sorry…” (It was very much not sarcasm I will say for those reading with bias.)

      Saying this in general: sometimes guys are going innocently to tell ladies they’re pretty to cheer you up. I would do it too not knowing. I want to make my wife feel better I remind her how beautiful she is. I’ve told my little sister she is to pretty to be crying. (Ok, it was your to pretty to be worrying about that asshole.”) I’ve told random women the same thing– because it works. It is hard to give a person you don’t know another complement to make them feel better when you literally only know them as well as you have seen them. They just don’t know. (Only saying this of the guys who are harassing by perception, certainly not the other dirtbags I have seen at Dingell.)

      I do not know anyone who has been what you have been though; i only know people that almost have. For one got the shit beat out of me for stopping it–bad. He didn’t get what he deserved, we were articled for fighting (he and his friends more than me since I got my ass beat.) I never said anything about why for her dignity. I did let her know I would testify. I assume she never said anything.

  5. First, any veteran, regardless of gender, should be comfortable in a VA facility. For you specifically, I would recommend contacting your Women Veterans Program Manager, Cara Garcia, LCSW by calling (602) 277-5551 (toll-free 1-800-554-7174), then dial ext. 1- 6764. Also be aware, that if you wish, VA Police will gladly escort you from the front entrance to your appointment, and then to your car if you ask them to, provided they’re not terribly busy. Their job is to make sure ALL veterans are safe. If you call the toll free number, press 0 for operator, and ask to be transferred, I’m pretty sure they would gladly do so. I know the VA officers here at my facility will.

  6. I know what you mean. I was going to meet someone from the Military Rape Crisis Center one day at the Phoenix VA. I was taking MOVE classes at the VA at that time and the other guys (mind you I was the only girl in that MOVE class) wanted to know why I looked so good as I usually look like a slob and I told them I was going to meet someone from MRCC and one guy announced, “Welcome to rape 101.” I told him to please stop this has been going on with me for too long and the guy got offended and was a Vietnam Vet. Another Vet came up to me and shared his story so I calmed down a little. I ended up telling the teacher and she just suggested I switch classes. I did just that. That never solves the problem! The VA just writes him off as obnoxious. Like that’s gonna stop the comments. What do you do?

  7. I should mention that the person from the VA who commented here, did so after I called the main VA Women’s # (and that there are actually two of us named Michelle, so I’m using my pseudonym) and tried to bring this to their attention. I submitted an email at their request with this site. Assuming that’s who Ms. Picray is…

    In either case, referring the veteran back to the same program manager who refuses to do anything is not going to solve the problem. The problem is with the entire VA system–and if they’d use the Seattle VA Women’s Clinic as an example as they promised nearly a decade ago to do, they wouldn’t still have this problem.

  8. I am 27 and I also go to the PHX VA for MST related issues only because there are no other outside options. But is took me many years before I could even come to the VA. I have to travel 30 plus minutes. I go to one program twice a week. I have not gone into the MST side of treatment yet, lets just say the VA does not give me a sense of comfort. When your perpetrator was your battle buddy it doesn’t add to you feeling comfortable walking down a hall full of them – battle buddies. Plus I didn’t serve in combat so I always get the “why are you here” and “did you serve over seas” comments that are awful enough. The whole PHX VA process is a nightmare for me. Sitting in co-ed waiting rooms is impossible. Going in the elevator is an feat all in itself. I know all the back stairs now. A few times I have had to be admitted upstairs and that too is terrible. It is not set up at all for women, let alone for someone with MST related issues. I had men with “issues” always outside my room or trying to come in. It makes seeking any type of crisis care impossible to me.

  9. The Va Hospital in Dallas is very very bad, I have been approached several times by men while there for an appointment. I have even cerbally complained to the Director of the Hospital too. Nothing was ever done.

  10. I am terrified every VA appointment. I get panic attacks the day before my appointment. I have become worse since receiving MST treatment and having to be harassed. I am debating on never going back! Sometimes I think of driving off a bridge on my way to each appointment. Yeah it’s that bad

  11. I would rather drive off a bridge than to go to my next VA MST appointment. I was treated so badly while being an inpatient I have lost trust and any faith in the system. All I got was oh I am sorry! The MST people wouldn’t even help me. WTH they are suppose to be there for US.

    1. Ok so I was offered stage 2 trauma treatment but it was for anyone with PTSD, not a seclusive MST program. Not sure about anyone else but I done have combat PTSD, just MST related. So why would I go into a group of basically men? Go figure why people the MST find it difficult to get help. When we do we get BS programs :(

  12. My name is Keith Ashdown. First, I’m sorry about what you had to go through. I work in the US Senate. My boss has us doing a deep dive into problems at the VA and I would like to talk/email you about your experiences with the VA. You have a very compelling story. Email is: keith_ashdown@hsgac.senate.gov or phone is 202-228-2105.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s