Monday, December 14, 2009

The Reality of War for America's Women in Uniform

Thanks to Marcia G. Yerman for bringing Kimberly Hefling's article, Female Veterans Struggle for Acceptance, to my attention. As Marcia noted in her comment on the post, "Military Sexual Trauma is a major issue."

Sadly, it's a major issue that is gravely under-reported.

In her article, Ms Helfing writes:
"Female service members have much higher rates of divorce and are more likely to be a single parent. When they do seek help at VA medical centers, they are screening positive at a higher rate for military sexual trauma, meaning they indicated experiencing sexual harassment, assault or rape. Some studies have shown that female veterans are at greater risk for homelessness.

Former Army Sgt. Kayla Williams, an Iraq veteran who has written about her experience, said she was surprised by the response she and other women from the 101st Airborne Division received from people in Clarksville, Tenn., near Fort Campbell, Ky.

She said residents just assumed they were girlfriends or wives of military men."

Read Kimberly Heflng's Article at HuffingtonPost

Unbelievable! It's sounds like Sgt. Williams is encountering people who've watched too many episodes of MASH and taken the fiction as gospel.

But as one response to the HuffPo article indicates, even if people view today's service women as more than the "girlfriends and wives of military men", many are still unaware of the scope of the problems that they face. In his comment Kidorf asked, "Are you suggesting that those female soldiers are being "offed"?

Well, Kidorf, the parents of Army Pfc Lavena Johnson may well answer that question with, YES.

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. It has been reported that when her body was discovered in a tent belonging to a private military contractor her remains displayed
a black eye, broken nose, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals and a bullet hole in the head. The military ruled her death as a suicide.

While it is yet to be confirmed by the military that Pfc Johnson was murdered, it is certainly clear that she and many other service women have been and continue to be subjected to various forms of abuse. It is also evident that their concerns (and those of their loved ones) are largely being dismissed.

The following is a video clip from a 2008
hearing held by The Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs' on "Sexual Assault in the Military." In this segment, you see Subcommittee Chairman Tierney and Full Committee Chairman Waxman practically threaten Michael Dominguez, Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Defense, with contempt after he reveals that he has ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to defy a subpoena to appear before the committee.

In his opening comments to the hearing Chairman Tierney remarked:
“What’s at stake here goes to the very core of the values of the military and the nation itself. When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should fear is being attacked by one of our own. We fundamentally have a duty to prevent sexual assaults in the military as much as humanly possible, and to punish attackers quickly and severely. We also must empower victims so they feel comfortable coming forward to seek justice and to receive help to get their lives back on track and to restore their dignity. Finally, we simply must ensure a climate in our military where sexual assault is in no way, either officially or unofficially, condoned, ignored, or tolerated.”

Another article which addressed this same troubling issue was "Rapists in the Ranks" by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), a must read for anyone concerned about this issue.

In this article Rep. Harman wrote:
"The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken."
She also noted:
"At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of 'insufficient evidence'."

In the following video Massachusetts School of Law Professor Diane Sullivan interviews Kirsten Holmstedt on her book, The Girls Come Marching Home: Stories of Women Warriors Returning From The War In Iraq. In the book female veterans of the war in Iraq speak about soldiers dying on their watch, dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the difficulties of returning home.

Recently, President Barack Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. Of course, a percentage of that number will be women. Regardless of how you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn't it time to make sure that the women who courageously serve in the armed services be treated with the respect that they have earned.

Related Posts:

Will You Become One of 25 Million?

Speak Out Against the Sexual Violence in Iraq

What Happens When Johnny Comes Marching Home

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