We founded Amikas in 2009 to work with homeless women, particularly women with children, who are living on our streets in appalling numbers. Quickly we learned that the fasted growing population of homeless people here and in the nation, are women veterans. We also learned that there are far fewer resources for women veterans who are homeless than there are for men. The since closed, emergency, winter shelter for veterans did not take women veterans.
Even though Amikas cannot offer housing to most of the women who call us hoping we can provide housing, we take the time with each of them to make recommendations. Often, the best we can do for them is to listen to their stories and be a compassionate “mom” for them. It didn’t take long to see the obvious connection between homelessness and MST (Military Sexual Trauma). Too often, being sexually assaulted while in the military is just the beginning of their nightmare. After learning more about the conditions that are behind the increase in homelessness with women veterans and the lack of resources, Amikas decided to focus our efforts on women veterans. If we have an opening in our housing, veteran women always have preference.
MST – Military Sexual Trauma
Hear San Diego Veteran, Stacy Thompson speak to the Senate hear on Feb 6, 2014 for an Independent Military Justice System, or watch the entire press conference here: Gillibrand, Survivors Continue Bipartisan Push for Independent Military Justice System
According to a 2011 report from the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, 90 percent of military rapes are committed by men with previous histories of assault. These predators select and befriend lower-ranking victims; often they ply their victims with alcohol or drugs and assault them when they are unconscious. In the military you can’t go over your commanding officer. Even if he’s not the perpetrator, a Commanding Officer doesn’t want it to be on his record that rape is happening in his/her ranks, so it’s in their best interest to silence the victim. Senior officers can — and often do — intervene to keep cases from being investigated and prosecuted. There are many ways a victim is “convinced’ not to report assault:
- Guilt – You’ll be responsible for destroying the perpetrator’s life; Retaliation – The victim gets a bad performance rating, gets the worst assignments and can’t get transferred;
- Being Ostracized – no one has her back in a combat situation;
- Bullying – I had one veteran tell me that when she finally succeeded in getting transferred, her assailant was also transferred to her new unit! Even if a rape victim gets as far as wining her case against her assailant, Under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a commanding officer reviewing a legal case has “absolute power” to disapprove the findings of a military judicial proceeding and he does.
Most often, rape victims see what happens to others who report sexual assault and remains silent. They will often manifest symptoms of PTS:
- Feelings of numbness. Feeling emotionally "flat"; trouble feeling love or happiness.
- Trouble sleeping. Trouble falling or staying asleep; bad dreams or nightmares.
- Trouble with attention, concentration, and memory. Trouble staying focused; often finding your mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things.
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs. Drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting drunk or "high" to cope with memories or unpleasant feelings; drinking to fall asleep.
- Trouble with reminders of the sexual trauma. Feeling on edge or "jumpy" all the time; not feeling safe; going out of your way to avoid reminders of the trauma; trouble trusting others.
- Problems in relationships. Feeling alone or not connected to others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures.
- Physical health problems. Sexual issues; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; stomach or bowel problems.
OTH Discharge Status
Symptoms of MST can often be manifested in ways that will result in the woman leaving the service with an Other Than Honorable discharge. Often she is diagnosed with a personality disorder. The majority of veterans' benefits are not available to individuals who receive an Other Than Honorable conditions discharge, including the Montgomery GI Bill and (in most cases) VA healthcare benefits. If a veteran can prove MST, she can get mental health benefits. VA grants to outside service providers often restrict funds from being used to help veterans who don’t have an Honorable discharge, limiting the services women can get even from non-government agencies.
The main problem will be applying for a job. That type of discharge will need explanation. When applying for a job, she can leave off her military service, but:
- If the employer ever found out (and it's pretty easy) it may be viewed as deception.
- Prospective employer may wonder where she has been all that time.
- Any background check, even the slightest, will reveal her service.
On the other hand, if she reveals that she has an OTH discharge, it will probably be viewed as derogatory. Which brings us back to where we meet these women, unemployed, living on the streets, couch surfing, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, mentally broken with such low self-esteem that they repeatedly end up in unhealthy relationships with men, having children they are unprepared to parent.
Our women who join the military deserve to be treated with respect and to have the same opportunity to succeed in a military career as their male counterparts. They should never have to face an enemy within their own ranks, and they should return to civilian life with the same benefits as the men, in acknowledgement of their sacrifice in service to our nation. Because that is who we are as a nation. Because it is the right thing to do.