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A Straightforward Transition Manual


In this manual The recruiting slogan “Army of One” never really made sense to me.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Welcome Home

“Veteran of One” is instead a feeling you may know all too well.

Getting Plugged In

The resources available for new U.S. military veterans are insufficient. The goal of this manual is to be a portable and accessible reference both in the beginning and throughout your transition

Go Get Your VA Card Now

from active duty.

Time to Think About School

Navigating the transition process can be very challenging.

Applying for the G.I. Bill Can Be Broken

I will never forget the green and white pamphlets in the VA hospital lobby. Printed in the 1970’s,

Down Into Four Steps

PTSD was explained through goofy cartoons. Lacking other resources, I grabbed about ten,

Disability: Why to Apply

“crazy.” I didn’t just come to the VA for cartoons; they offered group therapy for female vets too.

handing them out to family, my boss and my roommate in an effort to explain why I was acting Each week I’d trek out there to mingle with old guys sucking oxygen and nicotine on my way to

What is Vocational Rehab?

the mental health clinic. Six months later and I was at community college trying to see the face of the VA liaison over the stacks of papers on his desk. He had my G.I. bill check somewhere, just

A Physical and Mental Health Overview

couldn’t find it yet…. Today, as you return from Iraq or Afghanistan, I guarantee there are resources out there for you.

Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI

Just in the six years I have been out, many positive changes have been made to vet and active

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder | PTSD

not connected with the government- help is available. Finding it and deciphering it is another

duty services. Whether through the VA or through other veteran service organiza¬tions (VSOs) story. The goal of this manual is to give you a starting point from which to navigate your transi-

Military Sexual Trauma | MST Journaling References

tion. A network of veterans helping veterans is out there and you need to get connected. These connections will make a huge difference in getting you set up with your benefits and for transition into civilian life.


What you don’t want to hear A girl walks into a party. She joins a group of people talking and overhears that one of the guys is a vet. The first words out of her mouth are, “Was it awful over there, I mean did a lot of people die?” Everybody gets a little quiet and the vet says, “Yeah, it got pretty bad but you know.” From there, the girl keeps asking questions until the vet excuses himself and goes out for a smoke. Have situations like this happened to you before? It can get awkward and uncomfortable.

What people can say instead Here are some friendly suggestions for friends, family and potential make-out partners on how to start a conversation wth a vet “Thank you for serving.”

you feel uncomfortable. Building rapport: Asking questions that can get factual answers i.e.: ‘When

“People need to be aware of the context of the

did you get back?’ ‘What unit were you with?’ ‘What

question and answer. If you wouldn’t ask it at your

branch?’ Good!”

family dinner table, don’t ask it at a social function to a complete stranger. Judge the level of comfort.

“Welcome back. Thank you. How’s it going? How

General questions like, ‘What was Iraq like?’ will only

are you transitioning?”

get you an hour-long discussion that might make

The following is a list of bad conversation starters to ask a returning OIF/OEF veteran, compiled from written interviews from a vet retreat in 2007. Although some of the questions are humorous, they also illustrate the serious social disparity in this country due to civilians’ ignorance about what these men and women have been through.

So what was going to war like? What was it like?

Are you traumatized?

Was it cool?

What do you think of the war?

I hear you’re quick to anger…

Do you have emotional problems?

Did you see anyone (people) die?

Can we trust you?

So how was Iraq?

Did you kill anyone?

How can you be proud of your training?

That must have been hard…

Would you go back?

So you were a baby killer, eh?

Thank you for what you did. (instead of welcome home)

Why did you go, if you knew people would die?

My mom told me not to date a vet.

Did you lose any friends?

How was it?

You guys are a mortgage risk.

Anything besides “welcome home” unless they are a vet.

What plane did you fly?

Why are you all so rebellious?

So how many people did you kill?

You’re a pilot!!!

Does it suck?

Are you opposed to the war?

Are you experiencing PTSD?

People wanting to hear a story about an incident and saying “cool.”

Are you okay (mentally)?

Buy me a drink and don’t say a damn thing to me.

People telling me their views on the war when they meet me. I don’t care.

Did you see a lot of dead people?

Did you see any action?

Talking about “why” we shouldn’t be “there.”


Along with the reunions and sometimes-awkward conversations, initial transition is hard! If out-processing left you with a lot of questions, you are not alone. Some areas you may need transition assistance with might include, but are not limited too: adjustment with loved ones, PTSD and other mental health issues, employment, finances, medical benefits, and school. It is okay to be angry and frustrated and to not know where to begin. Take that frustration and get something done.

Throughout this section and for the rest of the manual, other vets will share some of their personal thoughts alongside the advice of the “experts.” I guarantee something in this manual will help with your transition. The first step now is to get you set up, registered, and plugged in.

step 1: Getting plugged in “The hardest part was getting answers for the questions we didn’t know to ask.

Whether you live in a big city or a rural community, it is possible for you to stay

Our debrief was about 2 minutes long. No one in my whole unit knew any of the

connected with other vets. Check out Vets4Vets at their website http://www.

services out there” (Anonymous, 2007).

vets4vets.us or the Iraq Veterans Project run by the San Francisco based VSO Swords to Plowshares. “The Coming Home Project” and Military.com are also

“I feel that the out-processing and job service program wasn’t emphasized

great places to get connected and find resources. Both Vets4Vets and “The Com-

enough. I feel that veterans’ benefits were not made available to all exiting

ing Home Project” run all expenses paid retreats and workshops. These events

service members…” (Anonymous, 2007).

are places where you can meet other vets and share your experiences, both

“I would have liked contact information to actual people in my hometown area for the VA, Vet centers, etc. My separation class should have been done at least 6 months before I got out instead of 2 weeks” (Anonymous, 2007).

good and bad. Along with similar memories of Iraq and Afghanistan, other vets can give you tips on the GI bill or applying for disability, which helps you with your own process. Inside tips can never hurt, so get involved!


step 2: Go get your VA card now

“My out-processing was much shorter and briefer than the usual classes so I lost a lot of info. One thing I remember they didn’t say was to check in at the

For additional information on the transi-

VA hospital at once. Location of Vet Centers would have been useful since

tion process for military families, check out

they have all the info we needed” (Anonymous, 2007).

this guide put out by the National Center for PTSD in 2006. You can download or print the

At the time that I got out of the military, you didn’t

your nearest VA hospital or Vet Center and register.

see many young vets. When I went to the VA hos-

Remember: Most VA outpatient clinics do not allow

pital everybody assumed I was a dependent or a

you to register there. The outpatient clinics are best

spouse. To get my VA card I had to literally scream at

for follow up appointments and are often found in

the VA hospital worker because she was refusing to

rural communities. It is best to go to a VA hospital

give it to me. Yelling a medical diagnosis at the top

or Vet Center to register and/or set up counseling

of your lungs as proof that you need medical servic-

appointments. You can find the medical center near-

es is not fun. I did get my card; but I struggled over

est you by going to: http://www1.va.gov/directory/

the next few years with speaking up for myself and

guide/home.asp?isFlash=1 .

being my own advocate. The care that I received, however, was very good and I would not be where I

VA Healthcare is your right. You earned it. If you

am today if I hadn’t made myself register.

have serious health problems, you may find that you have to really fight to get all of the treatment you

The initial steps can be hard, but once you get

deserve. The wait time may also prove frustrating.

through the registration, screenings, and wait time,

Passionate individuals are out there trying to change

there are people there to help you with your health

the system and policies to make this process easier

problems. You may think you are fine, are in perfect

and honestly, more fair.

health, or just hate the government. Go get your card anyway. You have a small window of time to register and then you lose your eligibility or postcombat related healthcare. Poof. Gone. So go into

PDF at http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/ manuals/nc_manual_returnwarz_gp.html. It is only eleven pages and very well done.


step 3: Time to think about school “No information on educational options (I only recently found out that if I had returned to my home state, I could have obtained a 1-4 year degree free of charge)” (Anonymous, 2007). “I wish my G.I. bill was available longer than 10 years.” (Anonymous, 2007).

A lot of veterans get started with school right when

have created guides and fact sheets to help you

they get out. It is great to stay motivated; but I high-

through the process. Legislation, rules, and other

ly recommend that you get connected with other

technicalities are changing all the time, so you may

vets and get your VA card first. Registering with the

find more current info than what is published in this

VA is just one less headache. Personally, I waited a

manual.

year before starting to use my GI bill. I needed to get my feet under me financially, so I worked two jobs

All accredited secondary institutions have VA certify-

until I could pay rent and afford a car no problem,

ing officials. These officials certify your education

then added school to the mix. With loans, scholar-

benefits eligibility. Utilize their office as they can be

ships, and the GI bill though, it is possible to get

a great help with your paperwork. Remember, the

right to work on your education without directly

quality of their service varies by institution as this is

joining the civilian workforce. Note: Please be careful

often an unpayed position. I have gathered some

with loans- do some recon before you sign on the

useful education tips from several sources includ-

dotted line.

ing: Swords to Plowshares, Military.com, and the VA

Choices. That is something you are going to

website. As I am sure you have heard, Military.com is a very useful website in a variety of areas for active

have to get used to now that you are out of the mili-

duty, veterans, and families. They do, however, have

tary. The options of what you can do with your life

very active sponsors and the information is slightly

are endless, but all that freedom can be overwhelm-

influenced by those sponsors. Check out their link:

ing. If you choose to go to school, investigate the

http://education.military.com but please keep your

vet resources out there. As well as going on to the

eyes open.

VA website to at least download forms, many VSOs


Applying for the G.I. bill can be broken down into four steps:

There is more to using the G.I. bill than applying. Learn about eligibility, attendance requirements, address changes, withdrawal, the payment rates,

1

and how you can use it for certification tests and job training/apprenticeships. The G.I. bill is differ-

3

Choose your school (i.e. community college, university, state, private, apprenticeship, etc.) Get

ent for Guard and Reserve than from Active Duty: always double check the eligibility requirements.

Submit the application. You should be able to do

I seriously suggest checking out both the mili-

this at your school; but if you want to do the ap-

tary.com website and the Swords to Plowshares

plication and set up your G.I. bill before choosing

website at http://swords-to-plowshares.org/iraq-

your school, then submit it online directly to the

veteran-project/ and the VA website as well. This

Fill out the application: VA Form 22-1990, which

VA Regional Processing Office. Remember, the VA

manual would be huge if I went into detail about

your chosen school should have in the registrar’s

requires detailed information, so they might not

all of this- so please, do more personal school

office or in the VA/G.I. bill liaison’s office. This can

give you the green light until they get additional

research. I used my G.I. bill at community college

also be done online at http://www.gibill.va.gov/

information. Your benefits are not instant. There is

to get my AA. My friend is using his to go to law

GI_Bill_Info/How_to_Apply.htm. Remember, if you

a 6-9 week waiting time with each institution you

school at Berkeley. The G.I. bill is part of YOUR

are applying for the Disabled Veterans Application

enroll in.

benefits; use it for a program that fits you.

accepted, and enroll.

2

for Vocational Rehabilitation (Form 28-1900) you must turn that in to the VA- not your school. (Voc

4

Rehab is covered later in this manual). The VA will start sending you money, which is awesome! Please remember that you have to check in every month so they know you are still in school. If you do not do this, they will terminate your money. Dial 1-877-823-2378 or log in online at https:// www.gibill.va.gov/wave. I just programmed the number into my cell and checked in that way.


step 4: Disability - Why to apply When asked about difficult adjustments in getting out of the military and back

Although worded for those with PTSD, the

to the States, some of the veterans I interviewed responded:

National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) provides information that is

“Lack of guidance on filing a claim and help available through VSOs, I only recently

applicable for all disability claims, so check out

became aware of the whole appeal process and who to contact for help” (Anonymous,

their website. In addition to what the NCPTSD

2007).

recommends, Swords to Plowshares is another

“Always being on edge. Not being in charge of what happens next. Having to wait on services such as the VA. Not having that close-knit group of people around to help out in the tougher situations” (Anonymous, 2007).

great VSO to help you with post 9/11 service disability claims. They have legal staff free of charge to help you file your claim. Swords to Plowshares also works as a referral organization, and can help you find assistance in your area. Vet Centers

Over the last six years I have stubbornly not applied

half of the lecture. I struggle using public trans-

often have free help once a week on a drop in

for disability from the VA. My reasons have been

portation because of frequent panic attacks. My

basis. Please do not try to process your claim

coworkers and friends have an ongoing joke about

alone. Representation is out there- make sure

1) I am in my twenties, so how can I be dis-

how jumpy I am. I am always on edge. I also have

your disability claim is squared away so that you

abled; and

rarely slept a whole night through without the help

do not have to go through the appeals process.

2) I can cope and hold a job so I don’t really

of a sleep aid in the last six years.

need disability…right…?

Have I proven to myself that I can live with these

The truth is, yeah, I can cope. I have made it through school, worked since I got out of the military and navigated several relationships. But in doing all of this, I have also lived with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) the whole time. In community college I had a note taker because I would end up having flashbacks in class and miss

symptoms? Yes. However, I got PTSD through serving my country and even with therapy and medication, it’s not going away. So I am now in the process of applying for disability and for me, it’s scary. Applying for disability is teaching me who to go to for help. Take these tips from me and other vets and apply for your benefits- don’t wait six years.


“Members of the military are often put in positions of tremendous responsibility at a much younger age than their civilian peers. Due to high turnover rates, a service member may find himself in charge of anywhere from 15-45 people, whom he/she is responsible for bringing home alive. Many service members feel deep frustration and longing for a sense of purpose when they return home and civilian jobs available to them do not offer the same level or responsibility. Some feel offended and at odds with civilians whom they feel do not trust them with the same responsibility or autonomy in their job duties” (Anonymous, 2007).

step 5: What is vocational rehab? The VA’s webpage for vocational rehab is very wordy

In order to be admitted into the program, you do

discharges. Helmets to Hardhats is also a great

and a little confusing; however, it does have use-

have to go through an eligibility and evaluation

organization if you are looking for a career or job in

ful information, so check it out at http://www.vba.

process. I know this is frustrating because you’ve

the construction industry. You can read more about

va.gov/bln/vre/vrs.htm. It explains that to be eli-

already “earned it,” but you are going to have to get

what they do at http://info.helmetstohardhats.org/

gible for these benefits, you must have a discharge

used to jumping through hoops to get your bene-

content/faq/. Non-profit and government resources

that is other than dishonorable and have at least a

fits- at least under the current system. Also impor-

are ready and available if you want or need them.

20% service-connected disability. To find out more

tant to note: the period of eligibility for the program

about what exactly a service-connected disability

is twelve years from the date your service-connected

is, go to the website. The folks that work for the

disability award letter.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program can help you get job counseling, appren-

Remember, there are VSOs specializing in disabil-

ticeships, and enrollment in colleges or technical

ity claims and post-military job training. Swords

schools. Depending on your disability, you can also

to Plowshares has legal personnel on staff and

get assistance with independent living services.

employment resources all free of cost and for all


A Physical and Mental Health Overview

The following pages will touch lightly on health issues you or others you know may be facing. Learning some basic definitions and symptoms of common injuries may help you recognize something you or a friend is currently facing. Included in these sections will be helpful resources for you to find out more information or to get help. The physical and mental health subjects that will be covered are: traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and military sexual trauma (MST).

“Those of us who get back from the war zone are different people. People need to give us time to get acclimated to being home. We might be very quiet or socially awkward. Civilians should be very careful when telling us about their problems, we might react very angrily because of the severity of things we have gone through. Most of us aren’t looking for a pity party or an excessive amount of praise. We just want to be respected” (Anonymous, 2007).


Traumatic Brain Injury

“We can save you. But you might not be what you were.” Neurosurgeon, Combat Support Hospital, Balad, Iraq

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused by blunt force injury to the head and/or the concussive force of explosions which cause the brain to slam against the skull. TBI results in a broad range of physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional and social challenges. Diagnosis can be difficult because injuries are not always obvious, the skull does not need to be penetrated, and the symptoms often are similar to those of PTSD. It is possible to have both PTSD and mild to moderate TBI because along with the injury, the experience is traumatic. For example: witnessing an IED explosion which killed and injured friends and peers. You or a fellow service member may look like you did before being injured, but still have difficulty with your memory, concentration, peer and family relations, and have symptoms that affect your job- both in the military and out. Treatment is available and is designed around the patient on a case-by-case basis. Rehabilitation can include: occupational, physical, and speech therapy; physiatry; counseling; and social services. Spouses and family are also a vital part of the healing process. To learn more about TBI go to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) website at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/tbi.htm, check out the De-

Blast waves causing TBIs can leave a 19-year-old private who could

ployment Health Clinical Center which has relevant information and useful links at http://

easily run a six-minute mile unable to stand or even to think… Military

www.pdhealth.mil/, and the TIRR Foundation’s Project Victory at www.tirrfoundation.org.

physicians have learned that significant neurological injuries should be suspected in any troops exposed to a blast, even if they were far from the explosion. Indeed, soldiers walking away from IED blasts have discovered that they often suffer from memory loss, short attention spans, muddled reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, depression and irritability. (Glasser, 2007)


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“The system should assume due to the current conditions of today’s current conflicts, that PTSD is inevitable. And that counseling should be made mandatory after deployment” (Anonymous, 2007).

The following is put out by the Madison Institute of Health. Their website Facts for Health has a comprehensive and straightforward section on PTSD: As the name implies, posttraumatic stress disorder occurs only after

“I was rushed out, but at that point it was what I wanted. I wanted to distance myself

(post) an extremely stressful event (trauma). The more severe the trauma

from the military a much as possible, as quickly as possible. It was emphasized to me

and the longer the person is exposed to it, the greater the likelihood of

that I should keep many DD214 copies. I’d just gotten back from Iraq so my head was

developing PTSD.

in a strange decompressing state. I was still anticipating attack” (Anonymous, 2007).

Post traumatic stress disorder scared the living hell out of me. I started experiencing PTSD symptoms while I was still on active duty and stationed stateside. I started having flashbacks, loss of sleep, and hyper vigilance that made no sense to me and was very scary. One month I was healthy and then gradually my qual-

Three or more of the following characteristics are usually present:

• • • • •

numbing, detachment or absence of emotional response reduced awareness of surroundings (being dazed) sensation that surroundings are distorted or unreal the feeling that you are different, strange or unreal an inability to remember parts of the trauma.

ity of life rapidly deteriorated. After my honorable discharge I bit the bullet and

In addition to three or more of these five characteristics, the traumatic

registered at the VA hospital. Registering was a frustrating process but after that

event is relived repeatedly. This can take the form of recurrent images,

was over I did receive help from the clinics there. The biggest challenge for me was

thoughts, dreams or “flashbacks” of the event. Even reminders of the

having to explain to people what I was going through. I felt like I was crazy. I was

event can cause extreme distress, so many people go out of their way

not comfortable talking to my family and friends about it.

to avoid places or events that resemble the traumatic event in some ways. Many experience increased anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness,

As you read more about PTSD in this section, please remember that having PTSD is

irritability, poor concentration, hyper vigilance or an exaggerated startle

not something you should be ashamed of. Not learning coping skills or avoiding

response. Some are even plagued by feelings of “survivor’s guilt,” because

treatment will make your life and transition harder than it needs to be. Please use these pages as a starting point to help yourself.

they survived when others did not or because of certain things they may have had to do to survive. This complete set of symptoms is obviously very disruptive and stressful to the victim as well as their family and loved ones. It can even impair job performance and social functioning. (Madison Institute of Medicine, n.d.)


Again, after making the decision to seek treatment, don’t be uncomfortable about asking all sorts of questions of medical and psychiatric professionals.

PTSD Support Services also talks about how the VA evaluates you for PTSD. The Facts for Health pages are a general overview about

“How will treatment help me?”

diagnosing PTSD. The criteria the VA uses to diagnose is specific

“How is PTSD counseling or group different from just regular therapy?”

in some areas. Please check out the PTSD Support Services link at:

“So what’s the deal with medication…”

http://www.ptsdsupport.net/whatis_ptsd.html and http://www.

“Do you have any pointers on discussing this with my family or my boss?”

ncptsd.va.gov . The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs website,

If you choose to take one or more medications, ask a lot of questions. Pills are not magic.

which as you may know is huge. From the main page of the NCPTSD

They don’t just make PTSD go away. You cannot take all meds in the morning or on the way

you will find links to fact sheets, educational materials, and resources

to work because they will knock you out. Others should not be mixed with other medica-

for your families.

tions. Even sleep aids are different. So ask questions. Doctors at the VA hospital can give you medication in addition to setting you up with counseling. Educate yourself about what

If you haven’t already, check out Military One Source. They have

you are being prescribed.

all kinds of resources for active duty and veterans, including a hotline for locating mental health services. The number works 24/7:

PTSD can be extremely frustrating for you and your family. I have been living with PTSD for

1-800-342-9647. I have not personally used Military One Source, but

six years. I have good days and bad days. Some of my friends and family members have

have heard good things, so check them out.

been really supportive. Conversely, some will never really understand what I am going through. I give simple explanations of my panic attacks or reasons for why I am so jumpy and they look at me with blank stares. I have accepted that I have friends that are just for partying with, and the PTSD part of me I just keep to myself. If I am having a flashback while I am with certain people, I just tell them I have to go to the bathroom and excuse myself. I used to wish that PTSD gave you purple spots so that it was obvious to people when I got out of the military that something had changed. However, what people think or understand about me does not bother me like it used to. If someone is going to discriminate against me for symptoms I have no control over, then I don’t need to be around them or, in some cases, date them. Remember, it is possible to go on with your life while living with PTSD. It is also possible to ignore the symptoms until your health and relationships suffer the consequences.


Military Sexual Trauma

“Women who chose the profession of arms deserve respect. They also deserve institutional mechanisms to provide for their safety and, in the worst case scenario, their treatment for trauma as a result of sexual violence associated with the US Armed Forces.” (Hansen, 2005).

A study done by the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System found that female veterans “… with MST had significantly higher clinician symptom ratings and more difficulties with readjustment than those without.” They concluded that, “These preliminary data suggest that MST in OIF/OEF women seeking mental health services appears to be a significant factor for predicting symptoms and difficulty with readjustment to civilian life” (Women who served in Iraq, n.d.). Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is a very real part of military service affecting the careers and health of active duty and veteran women and men. There are resources about MST; but programs helping survivors are still growing and are sometimes hard to find. Civilian rape crisis centers are equipped to “I wish more info/counseling had been available and

counsel and help with the sexual assault aspect but are often not prepared to fully understand and

presented publicly about Military Sexual Trauma (MST)”

address the military component. The rape crisis centers near bases are more experienced with military

(Anonymous, 2007).

members. Also remember their services are confidential.

“…It’s difficult to explain an experience that is so alien to a

Entering a government facility after surviving rape, harassment, or physical abuse can be terrifying; yet

civilian, I think that they are mostly uncomfortable around

VA hospitals are some of the only facilities I have found with people trained in or specializing in MST.

me especially in a liberal town. That I am opposed to the

I strongly advocate going to the VA’s women’s clinic and mental health clinic to seek counseling and

war but wholeheartedly support our troops. I’m not an

groups specific to PTSD and MST. The fellow survivors that you meet may also aid you in the healing

overtly aggressive girl who’ll kill them if they look at me

process.

wrong” (Anonymous, 2007).


The Department of Veterans Affairs has a program called “Disability Compensation for Sexual or Personal Trauma.” This particular disability claim is for veterans with PTSD and those who have “lingering physical, emotion, or psychological symptoms” from traumatic events including: rape, physical assault, domestic battering and stalking. The application is titled, “Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension,” and the form is VA form 21-526. To find out more details about this specific disability claim, you can call 1-800-827-1000 or go to the VA website: http://www.va.gov (DVA, 2004).

Amy Street, Ph.D. and Jane Stafford, Ph.D. (NCPTSD,

(e.g., implied special treatment if you were sexually

a superior. Due to close quarters and focus on unit

2007) have written a very approachable article on

cooperative).(Street & Stafford,NCPTSD, 2007)

cohesion, coming forward with allegations can be

MST that you can find in its entirety at the http:// www.ncptsd.va.gov website. Based on their research, this section covers MST facts and talks about the ongoing struggle to stop sexual violence in the US military. The US military includes harassment and sexual assault in its definition of MST. Sexual harassment is defined by Drs. Street and Stafford as the following:

really scary and laced with retribution. ConsequentThey go on to define sexual assault as the following: Any sort of sexual activity between at least two people in which one of the people is involved against his or her will. Physical force may or may not be used. The sexual activity involved can include many different experiences including unwanted touching, grabbing, oral sex, anal sex,

Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a

sexual penetration with an object, and/or sexual

sexual nature that occurs in the workplace or an

intercourse.(Street & Stafford,NCPTSD, 2007)

academic or training setting. Sexual harassment includes gender harassment (e.g., put you down because of your gender), unwanted sexual attention (e.g., made offensive remarks about your sexual activities or your body) and sexual coercion

MST is unique in that the victim often already lives and works with the perpetrator and oftentimes must continue to do so after the trauma occurs. The perpetrator may be the victim’s same rank, below, or

ly, many cases of sexual assault and harassment are not reported. Being blamed and ignored often has significant negative consequences to a survivor’s recovery and adds to the trauma. The alienation from peers is only made worse by the sense of betrayal from the Command and even the government as a whole. If you or a friend has experienced MST, please seek help from the VA or a rape crisis center.


Journaling “I didn’t know what to do with myself because I had free time. I’d sit there anxious because I felt like I needed to be active but had not idea what to do.” (Anonymous, 2007).

One suggestion to dealing with pent up energy or emotion is to write about it. At a recent retreat put on by Vets4Vets, one of the attendees brought journals for everyone and held sessions where she gave us prompts to write about. I was a little skeptical whether people would participate. However, this activity proved to be a highlight for many people; both men and women kept writing even without her prompts. Journaling can be a great way to write down what is hard to say. It is also a good tool for your memory. My PTSD has changed the way I remember things so that sometimes the past is so clear and other times I completely black things out. The times I have kept a journal, it has created a constant, or a point of reference, for when my PTSD symptoms get rough. Writing may help you sort things out, remember, let stuff go- or even function as a healthy distraction and place to vent. I have included some suggestions in the next few pages to help you get started. Give journaling a try; if you are skeptical you might just be surprised. Writer Lori Ritchie (2003) has some useful tips on journaling. She suggests skipping the first page if beginning your journal becomes overwhelming. Dedicating your journal to someone can mean a lot to you and maybe help sort through some memories. Pasting pictures into your journal can inspire you to write, or sometimes say more than even words. Copying lyrics from songs you have a memory associated with are a good addition. Writing about history, politics, or current events can help give you a point of reference when re-reading your journal later. Including poetry you have written can also add another dimension.


The following are journal prompts from me to help you get started. Remember, you don’t have to buy a blank notebook and fill it up. Take out a piece of paper and try one prompt- at least one…

What’s on your mind?

Write about the transition process- what has your experience been like?

How have things changed for you since coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan?

What were some of your dreams as a child?

Do you miss parts about being on active duty?

List three goals you have now.

Did you lose any friends in Iraq or Afghanistan? If so, what memories do you have of them?

Look at a photo. Write about that moment.

What are some of your strengths? What are some of your weaknesses?

Is there something you want to say to someone that you never had a chance to?

Conclusion Seamless transition is not seamless. With the

Serious questions are being raised as to how the

poor planning of this war, our country is not pre-

military can change its methods of out-processing

pared for the numbers of new veterans. In an article

and how educational and health benefits can be

I have been through the transition process you are

entitled, “Forgotten Heroes,” Newsweek addresses

made more accessible to those who have earned

going through, and there is a lot I am still learn-

the lack of services for returning troops with the

them. This project has not attempted to tackle these

ing. Many of the vets I have quoted are just getting

following:

issues of policy; however, it has been my intent to

started like you. The best thing I did to help myself

raise awareness. Basic necessities like applying for a

was to get plugged in with other veterans. We have

How well do we care for our wounded and im-

VA card, to school, and learning about some health

a responsibility as veterans of any era to share what

paired when they come home…We send young

concerns were my focus. As I continue with this

we’ve learned from experience. I hope these pages

Americans to the world’s most unruly places to

project, there is much I will

will help you and that you may help other vets. I

execute our national policies. About 50,000 service

This is the time for new ideas and strategies.

truly wish you the best.

members so far have been banged up or burned,

add. Families need resources on how to start the

suffered disease, lost limbs or sacrificed something

process as a unit or couple. Groups within the Coali-

less tangible inside them…stories are raising con-

tion for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (visit them at

cerns that the country is failing to meet its most

www.coalitionforveterans.org) are doing awesome

basic obligations to those who fight our wars…

work in this area; and as a nation we need to build

(Childress & Ephron,2007,p.30)

on what they are doing.

Sincerely,

Tia Christopher


References Childress,S., & Ephron,D. (2007). Forgotten Heroes. Newsweek, 29-37.

15, 2007, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17725659/

Christopher, T. (2007, April). [Interview with 16 anonymous U.S. military veterans]. Tucson, Arizona and San Francisco, California, pp. 1-6.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2006). Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/tbi/TBI.htm

Coleman, P. (2006). Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War. Boston: Beacon Press.

National Center for PTSD. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2006). Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Members. Retrieved June 6, 2007, from www.ncptsd.va.gov

Crown, E., National Nacal Medical Center Public Affairs. (2006, September 30). Traumatic Brain Injury Summit Convenes on Military, VA Combat Care. Navy Newsstand. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display. asp?story_id=25825 Department of Veterans Affairs. (2004). Disability Compensation for Sexual or Personal Trauma. [Brochure]. http://www.va.gov Deployment Health Clinical Center. (2006). Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.pdhealth.mil/TBI.asp DeploymentLINK: Deployment Health Support. (2002). Researchers study PTSD in Women. Retrieved February 10, 2007, from http://deploymentlink.osd.mil/news/ feb03/news_020303_001.shtml Fratangelo, D. (2007, May 7). Military sexual trauma- the new face of military PTSD. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18494197/ Glasser, R. (2007, April 8). A Shock Wave of Brain Injuries. Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved June 26, 2007, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/06/AR2007040601821.html Hansen,C. (2005). A Considerable Sacrifice: The Costs of Sexual Violence in the U.S. Armed Forces. Military Culture and Gender Conference at the University of Buffalo. (pp. 1-7). Buffalo, NY: The Miles Foundation, Inc., The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/ disorders/tbi/tbi.htm Perlin, J. (2006). Under Secretary For Health’s Information Letter: Screening and Clinical Management of Traumatic Brain Injury. Washington DC: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration. Ritchie, L. (2003, August). 20 Ways to Fill Page One. WritersDigest.com. Retrieved July 5, 2007, from http://www.writersdigest.com/articles/fill_page_one.asp Ruzek, J., & Swales, P.(2007, May 9). Coping with PTSD: Fact Sheet. Retrieved June 6, 2007, from PTSD Support Services: http://www.ptsdsupport.net Street, A., & Stafford, J. Military Sexual Trauma: Issues in Caring for Veterans. Retrieved May 2, 2007, from National Center for PTSD fact sheet: http:// www.ncptsd. va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/military_sexual_trauma.html Swords to Plowshares. Iraq Veterans Project. Retrieved May 2, 2007, from http:// swords-to-plowshares.org/iraq-veteran-project/ The Coming Home Project. (2007). The Coming Home Project. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.cominghomeproject.net/cominghome/

Helmets to Hardhats. (2007). Information Center. Retrieved June 6.2007, from http://info.helmetstohardhats.org/content/index.jsp

United States Department of Veterans Affairs. National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2007, May 31). National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 1, 2007, from http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_what_is_ ptsd.html

Katz, L., Bloor, L., Cojucar, G., & Draper, T. (n.d.) Women who served in Iraq seeking mental health services: Relationship between military sexual trauma, symptoms, and readjustment. Long Beach, CA: Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System.

United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program Services. (2007, March 14). Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program Services. Retrieved June 20, 2007, from http://www.vba.va.gov/ bln/vre/vrs.htm

Madison Institute of Medicine. (n.d.). Factsforhealth website. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://ptsd.factsforhealth.org/

Vets4Vets. (2007). Vets4Vets Home Page. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from www. vets4vets.us/

Military.com.Benefits. Retrieved June 6,2007, from:http://www.military.com/benefits

Williams, K. (2005). Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Military Sex Assault Reports Rose by 24 Percent. (2007, March 21). Retrieved May


PTSD Checklist Another organization providing useful information on PTSD is PTSD Support Services. They have provided a checklist/survey on their website

1

o Bad dreams or nightmares about the event or something similar o Behaving or feeling as if the event were actually happening all over again (this is known as having flashbacks) o Having a lot of emotional feelings when I am reminded of the event o Having a lot of physical sensations when I am reminded of the event (e.g., my heart races or pounds, I sweat, find it hard to breathe, feel faint, feel like I’m going to lose control)

because it is sometimes difficult to talk about your experiences or symptoms. By filling this out before going for treatment at the VA or elsewhere, it may be easier for you to express what you need.

Check the symptoms below that you experience (that may or may not be related to a traumatic event) and make notes as needed:

2

I have symptoms of avoiding reminders of the traumatic event:

I experienced or witnessed a traumatic event during which I felt extreme fear, helplessness, or horror.

o Avoiding thoughts, conversations, or feelings that remind me about the event o Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind me of the event o Having difficulty remembering some important part of the event

The event happened on (day/month/year) ___________________________________________

What happened? ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________

o I am irritable and have problems with my anger o I have a hard time concentrating o I think I may not live very long and feel there’s no point in planning for the future o I am jumpy and get startled easily o I am always “on guard”

I have symptoms of re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event:

3

I have noticed that since the event happened: o I have lost interest in, or just don’t do, things that used to be important to me o I feel detached from people; I find it hard to trust people o I feel emotionally “numb” and I find it hard to have loving feelings even toward those who are emotionally close to me o I have a hard time falling or staying asleep

4

I experience these medical or emotional problems: o Stomach problems o Intestinal problems o Gynecological problems o Weight gain or loss o Chronic pain (e.g., in my back, neck, pelvic area (in women)) o Problems getting to sleep o Problems staying asleep o Headaches o Skin rashes and other skin problems o Irritability, a quick temper, and other anger problems o Nightmares o Depression o Lack of energy, chronic fatigue o Alcoholism and other substance use problems o General anxiety o Anxiety (panic) attacks o Other symptoms such as:

(Ruzek & Swales, PTSD Support Services, 2007).


Swords to Plowshares 1060 Howard Street San Francisco, CA 94103 Phone: (415) 252-4788 Fax: (415) 252-4790

You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are: A Straightforward Transition Manual  

A straightforward manual for veterans transitioning out the U.S. military.

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