We met her at an LA Collaborative meeting. That’s the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, a group of community stakeholders, agencies and representatives serving veterans and military families in Greater Los Angeles. Like the NVF’s Women Veteran Outreach Coordinator Leaphy Khim, this woman Is a veteran. The two of them sat together in an early morning focus group for women veterans. Melanie Brown raised the issue of the scarcity of services for women who were pre-9/11 vets like her. Many agencies serve post 9/11 veterans only. She was quick to volunteer to put together a list of agencies who work specifically with women veterans. She and Leaphy struck up a conversation that led to more conversations about their experiences as women vets, and the needs of women veterans.
Brown’s experience as a US Army veteran in the years before 9/11 held its own kind of combat. In a war zone, yes, but not what you’re expecting. This wasn’t the desert or the jungle. This was basic training. Brown made a short, animated documentary about her experience. Her “Lion in a Box” is available on Vimeo.
Watching it, I remembered the nurses in Vietnam, what they experienced in the field hospitals and also after hours. How their lives were so different from what they would have been stateside. And I thought of the women vets we see in our outreach. Mary Ann Mayer, our Women Veteran Outreach Director, says this about them. “Here is the incredible strength of women veteran survivors of MST. These women can get knocked down, and still not break. They inspire me every single day.”
It takes a special kind of woman to want to train for combat. Melanie Brown is that woman. It riles her when someone makes the assumption that because she was not in a designated combat zone, she had an easy time of it. Her experience of harassment and unfair treatment is painful to watch, the more so because you know it’s not unusual. At the risk of repeating myself, here’s from my blog of 8/4 this year:
Forty percent of military women have experienced MST (Military Sexual Trauma) while 67% have experienced sexual harassment. And these figures don’t include unreported cases. Multiple studies show that PTSD from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is twice as severe as combat PTSD.
The level of reported incidents of MST have risen, but the number of cases actually going to court hasn’t kept pace with the increase of reports. What we (still) have here is a situation where there doesn’t seem to be accountability for actions. Attention is drawn to problems and issues, and that’s all well and good. That’s the first step. What we need is substantive change.
There are ranking officers in the military justice system who see the need for change. Likewise in the Senate. Likewise in the ranks of women veterans who are telling their stories now. Let’s hope it’s just a matter of time, but let’s do keep the pressure on.
If you know a veteran who needs help, here’s our Lifeline for Vets number where they can talk vet-to-vet: 888.777.4443.