(172) Girls Don’t Like Bologna: Military Sexual Trauma

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Miss Molly Crashes Through Stereotypes

Even though I fought my way up the career ladder in a male-dominated profession, I find that I know nothing about the challenges women face in the military. In fact, Miss Molly reminded me of my errors in stereotyping females when she gulped down a chunk of bologna I dropped when making lunch for my Veteran (so much for girls not liking bologna).

Until now, I have avoided the subject due to my ignorance. Over the past few months, our VA clinic overflows with young female Veterans. Rarely, do these Veterans engage in dialogue, being guarded about their service and experiences. Evidence of despair and hurt ripple through their bodies and in sputters as they speak. Clearly, these Veterans experienced trauma similar to their male counterparts with one significant addition—the predominance of sexual trauma because of their gender. Of course, men also experience sexual trauma.

For this blog, we begin exploration of MST (Military Sexual Trauma) with the statistics.

The Facts about MST 

The VA reports that of the men and women screened at VA facilities for medical care, one in four women report a history of MST. One in 100 men report a history of MST. Because of the dominate number of men in the military, over 40 percent of MST cases reported to the VA are from male victims. The VA declared that MST leads to PTSD more often than other types of trauma.

On a national level, 293,000 victims are sexually assaulted every year. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that 68 percent of sexual assaults remain unreported; it is no wonder since 98 percent of rapists will never see jail or prison time for their crimes.

Help for MST 

Department of Defense Assistance 

DoD Safe Helpline 877-995-5247 via text or call for help 24/7

The DoD offers help to any individual, who experienced military sexual trauma, rape, or domestic violence. As well, free VA services wait for any Veteran, who experienced MST regardless of the individual’s disability rating. The DoD works with assault victims for not only their healing but to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Veterans Affairs Assistance 

VA Crisis Hotline at 1-800-827-1000 

The VA website for MST offers a list of programs and services, a fact sheet, articles about MST, and links to helpful resources. The site includes a PDF brochure of compensation and claims issues for MST. This document states that while the VA will not rate a disability based on MST experiences, it may rate a disability for issues related to MST, which include PTSD.

In addition to connecting with other resources, the VA employs a MST coordinator at every VA facility. You do not need to have a service-connected disability to use this resource and receive help. The VA stresses:

To receive these services, you do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process.

VA Website on MST

RAINN Assistance

National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by RAINN at 800-626-HOPE (4673)

RAINN offers assistance with a 24/7 hotline, resources, and links. It also advocates for the rights of assault victims and for use of DNA in apprehending and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Be Tough; Be Military Strong

During my tenure as an adjunct professor, I met several female Veterans struggling through unresolved issues. Several shared that they suffered from MST but refused help. One Veteran told me, “Marines don’t cry. We suck it up. We move on.” My heart broke as I watched her emotional health crumble with the stress of her civilian job and work on her graduate degree. She agreed to talk with my husband, as a fellow Veteran, who often drove me to campus. He offered to refer her to a mental health counselor at the VA and for us to meet her at the VA hospital but she declined. By the end of the semester, she shared that a female friend accompanied her to the VA to get help. For the first time during the semester, I saw flickers of hope in her eyes.

I never walked in the shoes of a Veteran. Everything I know comes from being married to a disabled combat Veteran for 22 years, talking and observing Veterans at VA facilities, or through my research. I believe the strength of character and resolve of my student mentioned above in seeking help makes her a model of courage. She recognized that to be able to fulfil the military mantra of being tough, putting it behind you, and moving on, she first had to ask for help.

Post your Comments 

What makes military service different for men than women? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.