North Texas Daily

Organization helps female veterans cope with trauma

Organization helps female veterans cope with trauma

April 08
21:52 2013

Korynthia Peal and Whitney Rogers / Contributing Writers

Consistent with Associated Press  style, rape victims are not  fully identified. The veteran is identified by her first name to protect her identity. 

Fighting, screaming and crying is all she remembers from the night she was raped by a fellow soldier on her base in Kentucky.

Becky, who was raised in a Catholic home, said she was drinking with friends that night. Her drink had been drugged. She recalls her friend beginning to rape her. She begged and pleaded but he didn’t stop.

She blacked out and didn’t wake up until morning.

Becky was taken to the hospital where they told her she had been robbed of her virginity. She was heartbroken and sought out a chaplain who reinforced the doctor’s conclusion telling her it was partially her fault because she had been drinking.

After she was raped, Becky, who wants to keep her last name private, said she received threats from her attacker. He repeatedly her told that if he got in trouble, even if he couldn’t get to her, his friends would, she said.

She never reported the assault. The only person she told was her sister, though sworn to secrecy, who told her parents right away.

Becky had dreams of a 20-year military career, but she couldn’t handle the daily threats. With the help of her parents, she was honorably discharged just over a year after joining the military.

Today, she struggles to cope with the reality that she was raped and threatened. She never opens the blinds in her house, her alarm system is always set and she remains extremely cautious.

She found help from Grace Under Fire, a non-profit organization based out of Fort Worth, , Texas thatwhich aims to provide the means for women veterans to gain knowledge, insight and self-renewal. Its board of directors and staff areis made up of women that have served in all branches of the military to guarantee that their programs are not only effective, but also relatable.

Founded in 2008, Grace After Fire provides programs like, “Table Talk: Color Me Camo,” which offers a peer support system to women who have returned home. This program focuses on gender specific aspects to identify and address barriers women veterans face.

“Grace After Fire is a great resource, but a lot of women just don’t know about it,” said Christine Eberle, outreach coordinator for Bear County and Army veteran.

Eberle connected Becky to Grace After Fire which has helped her deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – an anxiety disorder developed from one or more traumatic events. This is a disorder that, like Becky, affects many veterans.

“Just being in the military for that short period of time you don’t feel like a veteran,” Becky said. “You feel like a failure.”

But Becky isn’t the only who feels this way. In 2012, well-known director, Kirby Dick, released “The Invisible War,” a documentary exposing the widespread issue of sexual assault in the military.

According to information posted on the film’s website, there have been more than 95,000 sexual assault cases involving service members since 2006 with more than 86 percent of victims not reporting their assaults. And even if affected service members go to the authorities, less than 5 percent are “put forward for prosecution with less than a third of those cases resulting in jail time.” It’s been described as “the most shocking cover up in the United States military.”

Grace After Fire offers yearly summits where female veterans can bring their families, stay in a hotel and enjoy the company of fellow veterans. This two-day conference offers activities for women, men and children, including stress reduction techniques, panel discussions and a tranquility room. Each summit is free to women veterans and meals are provided.

“Grace After Fire will help connect you with other women veterans and help you get the resources you need to help yourself and help others,” said Mea Williams, a Navy veteran who is the Outreach Coordinator for Harris County,. according to their 2011 annual financial report,

Pam Karnes, a guest at the latest summit that took place in Arlington in last month, spent more than two years in the United States Air Force. Her dad, who was also a member of the Air Force, took her to meet with a recruiter.

Stationed at Carswell Air Force base in Fort Worth and the Royal Air Force in Bentwaters England, Karnes’s career came to an abrupt end in 1980 when she was discharged for “homosexual acts.”

“My worst memory of the Air Force is when they told me I wasn’t good enough to serve in their country because I didn’t fit their moral standards,” she said.

She said her discharge stemmed from an affair she had with the wife of a non-commissioned officer.

This experience, combined with others, left her with PTSD.

Stacy Keyte, the Outreach Coordinator, said that one of the biggest issues women veterans deal with is the lack of acknowledgement and care for women in the military. When Keyte left her young son for her second deployment, she said it took everything in her to “put on a strong face.”

“You never see the woman say goodbye,” she said.

But despite the trauma they faced, what these three women service members have in common is that they’ve found “Grace” in each other.

After sitting down with the mothers, daughters and sisters of the armed forces and listening to their stories, they’ve proven to be tougher than the image of weakness they were dealt.

Going against the status quo alone is enough to make others question their own strengths.

For more information about Grace After Fire, visit www.graceafterfire.org, or find the organization on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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