Hey, you might have heard by now that I am changing my focus from military affairs. There are numerous reasons, some funnier than most. So, picture this: I'm sitting at home, minding my own business, when suddenly I get wind of a big presentation happening about evidence-based practices (EBPs) for military sexual trauma. Now, you might think, "Hey, that sounds like something Ayana Brown would be all over!"
Well, turns out, they didn't think so. Yep, yours truly wasn't invited to speak at the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), even though I am one of the writers of the presentation! Maybe it is because I am still a grad student, maybe I don't have the right look, who knows? I mean, come on, I could've brought some real sauce to the topic. But c'est la vie, I am used to it. My violators will never see justice. My recruiter is probably collecting retirement checks and the other one became a Naval Officer. This is no different. I've been erased from interviews more than once. Right now I have my hands full fighting for my Mom's healthcare.
Repeat after me, "radical acceptance". (I learned that from DBT)
Still, this feels violating as well. I feel exactly like I did sitting in the audience watching my rapist get promoted to officer. I sat in silence, thinking that my story doesn't matter. Who would care what happened to a dark-skinned ghetto chick? Well, that was a long time ago. There is no part of me available for any man or woman to use without my consent, not anymore.
I reached out to Dr. Katz in March 2022 while researching supports for sexual trauma victims. I bought her books and learned as much as she could tell me. I could tell that the military silenced her too. She did not want to talk about why her program stopped but she encouraged me to start it up again. More on that later.
I started looking for female, Veteran, licensed mental health professionals because I had an idea. I wanted to continue Dr. Katz' work but I could not get the training yet. Thinking of all the women we could help now, not 3-4 years once I graduated, I pitched collaborating until I could be a part of it too. I presented the idea and found 2 female Veterans who are Licensed Social Workers and sexual trauma survivors to join me in the vision. I met Dr. Poe through local heroine, Lavinia Masters. Through Dr. Poe, I met Kimberly Henry, LMSW.
While I was trying to raise the money to pay for their training, they invited me to speak at the Texas Victim Services Association with them that October. We worked for weeks combining our unique styles and called it, "The Lack of Evidence-Based Practices in Military Sexual Trauma." Provocative, huh? This was supposed to be a chance for me to build my vitae by being a part of research.
A retired Army Counselor I know saw the title and was very displeased and offended. I explained to her that while, yes, there are plenty of EBPs available in theory, access to them depends on where the Veteran lives. She agreed.
So, for you I will do my part of the presentation.
Lets start by defining MST. Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service. According to the VA's statistics, 1 in 3 victims of MST are female. The report also says that 1 in 50 males are victims. This is, of course, based on those that actually report their assaults.
One of my focuses is to make sure that all Veterans, specifically those suffering from MST receive disability benefits. I explained how this works. The VA lists MST as "PTSD related to a personal trauma". It is listed in M21-1, Part VIII, Subpart iv, Chapter 1, Section B. Claimants must refer to the Title 38 CFR § 3.304 (f) regulations on service connected PTSD. PTSD is designated as an anxiety disorder according to the DSM-V. For disability compensation, a Veteran must have a DSM-V diagnosis and/or a physical disability due to the MST "event".
According to the VA, symptoms of MST include:
1. Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional reactions to things; feeling angry
or irritable all the time
2. Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally ‘flat’; difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness
3. Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares
4. Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding
their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things
5. Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or
“high” to cope with memories or emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep
6. Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or
‘jumpy’ all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences
7. Difficulties in relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble
with employers or authority figures; difficulty trusting others
8. Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal issues
In 2021, the Journal for Military, Veteran, and Family Health reported that the rate of homelessness for Veterans without MST was 4.3%, whereas the rate for those with MST was more than double at 9.6%.
Warrior Renew, a 12-week intensive outpatient program, successfully treated homeless female Veterans with MST in Long Beach, California.
The VA discontinued the program in 2013. The founder, Dr. Katz, has made Warrior Renew available to learn by licensed clinicians. The program can be 8-weeks and has online capabilities.
There is currently 1 provider offering Warrior Renew in-person in Utah.
Knowing this, can you guess what the predominant therapeutic modalities used by the VA are in reference to treating MST? Yup, good ole' prolonged exposure and CPT. Based on dropout rate, alternatives to PE and CPT would be more effective. Yet, these interventions are not available to all Veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Here are the benefits of some others.
As you know, I am big on Veteran retreats. Well, because I do not count as a combat Veteran, I am not permitted to take part in PATHH programs. Those programs teach Transcendental Meditation (TM) amongst other life-changing gifts. TM research has shown decrease in symptoms and medication usage.
However, TM training is only made available for 1st responders, combat Veterans, and military officers in the following locations:
Long Island, NY
San Diego, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Palo Alto, CA
I paid over $700 to receive TM training on my own. This is why I promote people receiving their disability payments.
What I get from this is that my violators can get access to evidence-based and effective help for PTSD, but I. DO. NOT. QUALIFY. (feel free to marinate on that for a few minutes)
My part of the presentation ended with our list of top 3 solutions that we suggested as Military Sexual Trauma Survivors.
Preventative sexual education training that includes individuals with lived experience
Trauma-informed medical, dental, and mental health care
Access to EBP for treating sexual trauma in all states for MST survivors and their families
EFT & TM
You can see the full presentation at either NOVA or Trauma Support Services.
Let me know what you think about what I shared! This is the closest to me being part of a published article at this time.
Please share with organizations that can help me bring Warrior Renew back.
"Sometimes you gotta laugh through the tears, smile through the pain, so that you can live through the sorrow." - Alex Tan