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Getting better is scary’: Women veterans with PTSD

Anne Saker |


For Erica Slone, the choice boiled down to a simple equation: Die. Or go to Fort Thomas.

In early July, she pulled into the parking lot of the Cincinnati VA’s Trauma Recovery Center in Fort Thomas. She stood outside studying the formidable brick building. She had a lot riding on this place.

Slone had arrived after years of suffering. In 2003, barely a year into her Air Force enlistment, another airman raped her. She told no one. She pushed on through her 6-year hitch, earning a rack of medals and serving in Iraq. When she got out of the service, she earned an art degree.

Through it all, she fought to block the memories, even as every moment of her life demanded hyper-vigilance.

At last, the trauma broke within, and the war against intrusive thoughts, anxiety and dread went badly. Slone ended up in a VA hospital planning suicide. Then a bed opened in the residential treatment program at Fort Thomas. She was doubtful. But she wanted to function in society again. So she walked inside.

In confronting post-traumatic stress disorder among military veterans, the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and its Fort Thomas Division stand as important battlements. Last year, more than 5,000 of the 43,000 veterans in Greater Cincinnati received treatment for PTSD at the medical center’s main campus, the Fort Thomas facility and six area clinics.

Psychologist Kathleen Chard directs the VA’s Trauma Recovery Center. She is bullish on bringing PTSD under control as she oversees three residential programs for veterans – for men, for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and for women.

When the Fort Thomas program for women opened in 2007, it was just the third in the nation. The main reason women veterans seek PTSD treatment is for enduring military sexual trauma – a VA term that includes rape, assault and sexual harassment while in service.

Recent research reveals the shocking level of military sexual trauma and the risk of suicide among female veterans. A study released in July of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars found that 41 percent of women and 4 percent of men experienced military sexual trauma.

In June, the VA released disturbing research showing that the suicide rate among young women veterans is nearly 12 times the rate of non-veterans.
No such thing as cure, but there is recovery

There is no cure for PTSD. But, “for 70 percent of the people who walk out of here,” Chard said, “their symptoms are relieved to the point where you can say they no longer have PTSD. And the other 30 percent are….

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Mental Health
Women Veterans