We all witnessed very moving Memorial day ceremonies all across our nation, but the truth is that many of our American veterans have lived shattered lives since returning home from deployment all over the world, both in combat and non-combat roles. They often don’t know where or how to find peace of mind so they become drifters – homeless men and women from all states of our Union. Since 2006 the “Our House” foundation has been working in Springfield to bring help to veterans of all services. We are a 501-C-3 charitable organization. Veterans from as far away as Nevada and, Wisconsin have called us for help. Our Mission is to help them “Sculpt their todays for better tomorrows”– to cope with the present, so they can work, with their families, for a better future for all.
Since receiving our State of Missouri charter in 2005, we have been committed to the rehabilitation of men and women who, after returning from deployment go home to their loving husbands, wives, and children only to discover, not soon afterward, they are unable to stand the pressure of home life and leave because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experiences and/or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) only to become one more homeless statistic.
Most recently, this organization has become aware of, and very alarmed about, our brave young female soldiers who are being sexually assaulted and/or raped. In her 3/9/2010 article Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes Project, Kara O’ Connor, Villager staff writer wrote “Unfortunately, according to recent statistics, female veterans are becoming homeless faster than their male counterparts, and compared to females that have never served in the military, female veterans are 3.6 times more likely to become homeless.”
- According to the U.S Census Bureau, from 2008 –present there are 1.8 million women in the military.
- 1 out of 5 female soldiers/veterans have been sexually assaulted and or/raped. (2)
“Women in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire. I know what you are thinking – it sounds too unbelievable to be true. But it’s not” (5)
Here, in Missouri, as of 2008 – 2010, 38,000 females have joined the service and, are deployed.
Why does history continue to repeat itself?
Young women join the military for the same reasons men do, to escape their dead-end towns or, a dysfunctional home life; to pay for college, to follow their ideals or, make it a career – only to find themselves denigrated and sexually hounded by many of their “brothers” on whom they are suppose to rely. And when they go to war, this harassment does not necessarily stop. The double traumas of combat and sexual persecution may be why a 2008 Rand study found that female veterans are suffering double the rates of depression and, Post Traumatic Stress disorder of their male counterparts.” (1)
Most people are unaware of the historic change the Iraqi War represents in terms of American female soldiers in war. Iraq was the tipping point for women dying in war. The number of women killed in action there was more than all the wars since WWII combined. More than 300,000 women have served in the Middle East since March 2003. Most of the women served in Iraq. Over 600 were wounded and 104 have died there, according to the Department of Defense.
Since the beginning of any war involving the United States, Congress “banned” women from participating in ground combat. “Because the US military is so short of troops, and Iraq’s battlefields are in towns and roads, women are frequently thrown into jobs indistinguishable from those of the all-male infantry, cavalry, and armor divisions, often under the guise of “combat support.” They “man” machine guns atop tanks and trucks, guard convoys, raid houses, search and arrest Iraqis, drive military vehicles along bomb-ridden roads, and are killing an being killed. In Afghanistan, too, women find themselves in these positions. Despite this “ban”, more than 2,000 women who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan have been awarded Bronze stars, several for bravery and valor in combat. More than 1,300 have earned the Combat Action Badge and two have been awarded Silver Stars, the military’s top honor for bravery in combat.”(1)
“The pinnacle of this derogatory attitude toward women comes from the Pentagon’s “ban” on women in ground combat, which was reaffirmed in 2006 despite being perfectly aware that in Iraq, women are in combat all the time. “The “Ban” comes from the military, from the Pentagon to the troops on the ground, has been very slow to recognize the service these women perform, or even to see them as real soldiers. The male dominated military society is permeated with age-old stereotypes of women as passive sex objects who have no business fighting and, cannot be relied upon in battle. “Ironically, a 2005 Gallup Poll reported by the military itself, belies them. From the military’s own report, they “favored having women serve as the ground troops who are doing most of the fighting.” (1)
“During the Vietnam War, women made up 3 percent of the military. Now, women hold 15 percent (It is now 20 percent) of active duty roles.”(2) According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (2011), there are presently, over 300,000 women in the military. This growing population faces many of the same problems as men but also health and mental health issues that are unique to women. “Although women have been piloting Black-Hawk Helicopters for the past 15 years and, there were women in the military from the beginning of the wars we fought, the military and the veterans system, was originally built by and for men.” (4)
What can we, in the Ozarks do?
We in the Ozarks are truly fortunate to live in an area of our country that has a great love for its families and, are extremely supportive of those who are willing to lay-down their lives; leave their families and deploy overseas so their wives/husbands, children and communities can remain safe and out of harm’s way.
Although there are Veterans Hospitals that have made accommodations for women, the majority of VA hospitals have not made accommodations for female veterans…and, when they have made some accommodation, women still have to pass through hallways filled with men sitting on benches watching them walk and looking at where they’re going. Most women feel very uncomfortable knowing that these strangers know where she is going and what they perceive will happen behind close doors. (2)
According to the VA (Veterans Administration), 1 out of every 5 female soldiers and 1 out of 10 male soldiers have been sexually assaulted, harassed and threatened. (2011) Far from protecting women, men are attacking them. It is the women who are in more danger than before; both from being in the battle and from those very men who are suppose to feel so protective of them.
The majority of military men do not look down on women as inferior soldiers or sex objects, of course, but there is still too many who do. Some soldiers and commanders show their hostility by undermining women’s authority, denying them promotions or denigrating their work. Others show it through sexual harassment, assault and rape (of which there is a shockingly high rate in the military). These problems occur thorough out the military, on US bases all over the world, as well as in war.
The following are some examples given by NPR Reporter Frank Morris in 2010 :When Suzanne Swift reported her sergeant for repeatedly raping her over months and then refused to redeploy under him, the Army tried to Court Martial for desertion and put her in prison for a month.
When Cassandra Hernandez of the Air Force reported being gang-raped by three comrades at her training academy, her commander charged her with indecent behavior for consorting with her rapists.
When Sergeant Marti Ribeiro reported being raped by a fellow serviceman while she was on guard duty in Afghanistan, The Air Force threatened to Court Martial her for leaving her weapon behind during the attack. “That would have ruined my career, so I shut up.”
All the men who were accused in these cases went unpunished. Several of them even won promotions.
“More female troops have died in Iraq of non-hostile causes than have been killed in battle, and several of those deaths have either been labeled “suicides or been left unexplained by the military. Four of these women had earlier been raped, and at least 16 others died in such suspicious circumstances that retired Colonel Ann Wright and, Congressman Ike Skelton, (from Missouri) have called on Congress to compel the military to reopen the investigation ever since, but so far to no avail.” (1)
“One of the most shocking cases is that of 19-year-old LaVena Johnson, whose dead body was found on her base in Balad, Iraq in July 2005. Her father, who has pictures of her body, said her face was battered; she had been stripped, raped, burned re-clothed, dragged across the ground bleeding and, shot in the head. The Army initiated an investigation, then suddenly closed the case and labeled her death suicide. Her father and Colonel Wright have been trying to get Congress and the Army to reopen the investigation ever since, but, so far, the Army has declined to cooperate. (1)
Because the military is a “closed” institution where “word travels fast”, most women returning from deployment know of, or have experienced sexual harassment or rape by a “comrade” or quite possibly, a superior officer. Most of these women, in all probability, suffer PTSD and MST because of what they heard/ saw/ know of or, experienced while serving our country.
Coming home, these young women cannot wait to be with their families home-side. Their children want to be close to them…and their husbands want to be close and intimate with them as well. Because of what they experienced thorough deployment, they cannot stay in their homes for too long. They feel used, abused and dirty from the hostile environment they were put in. They cannot attend to their children because their minds are thousands of miles away…back in Bagdad /Afghanistan or other bases far away.
After being away from their mom for so long, the children want to hug and kiss and be held so close. The mom/soldier cannot stand the closeness and may push the child away or, lash-out. . . hitting their children or, their spouses. They leave their homes only to become one of the new homeless females veterans in the homeless population. Once they get to this part of their lives, the degradation continues more rapidly. These young women have put themselves into situations that are more dangerous and they are subject to more harm. In dirty hotels, homeless campsites, under bridges. . . They do not care about themselves nor, their own lives yet, they love their children and want to be with them but cannot.
Feb.15, 2011: Department of Defense: The Department of Defense is being sued, along with Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Seventeen women who served in the military filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit is claiming gross negligence by the US military in handling rape and sexual assaults. The women claim the US Military created a culture of supporting rape. The case is a landmark lawsuit in that no one has challenged the military’s policy of investigating sexual assaults. In 2008, Congress demanded change in institutional practices within the military regarding sexual assault. The Congressional Budget Office
issued a statement last year, saying that after two years and fifteen million dollars, there have been no changes made. (3)
As we all know, the threads that run deeply through and bind our families together and those that keep our fighting forces together, have to be kept strong and healthy to keep our country safe. If we don’t stand up and help these young women, their families will continue to unravel until we, as a nation, are weakened and exposed to future generations of broken families with broken children that have no idea where their mothers’ disappeared to.
We all need to stop turning a blind eye to the debauchery of our brave female soldiers and start helping them. Eventually, when they feel they are stronger, more stable and may want to go home, they will be able to hold their heads high, go home and be a mother to their children, a wife to their husband and a contributing member of their family and community.
Now, is the time for this organization to pull together with this wonderful community and build a Women’s Veteran Re-Integration Community. There is nothing like this re-integration community as far as Massachusetts and, in Massachusetts there is a husband-wife couple building this country’s first rentegrated community. There are a few places on the West Coast and, maybe a few places on the East Coast that house women veterans but, nothing that is integrated to help them find themselves again.
The “Our House” Women Veterans’ Re-Integration Community – the vision to come”
Beginning in 2006-07, the “Our House” Foundation was planning a “transitional community” for our male and female soldiers. Since that time, all 50 states have VA hospitals for the men, and less than ½ have facilities for the women. These “female” facilities are in less than ½ of ALL the VA hospitals….There are places in almost every state where “wounded Warriors can go to get better…none for the women who have had to face sexual trauma induced from rape or continued sexual harassment. Approximately 6 weeks ago, on NPR, I heard a program about MST (Military Sexual Trauma) and 1out of 5 female soldiers suffering from this. At this time, one facility is being built somewhere in Massachusetts. That is it. 300,000 women are presently in the military…Many more have come home before…and there was nothing for them. Nothing. The VA just released information about 300 women who have gone to the VA for medical help have been brutalized. Good Lord, if the VA cannot stop the craziness here, right below our noses…. We HAVE TO step in.
Now, is the time. Now is when we can show the women of our great military what the people in the Ozarks are all about. Now, these women are needing our care and now we can help… with your help.
Our women troops, and their families, have endured highly charged conditions and still continue to undergo challenges that are unprecedented in the history of the United States military. Yet, there is only one Re-Integration Community, now being built in 2011, for our brave female soldiers.
The “Pivotal Point -Re-Integrated Women Veteran’s Community will be the second one in the United States and it will be located in, or near Green County depending on where we locate or are offered a piece of property that will be suitable for our soldiers.
“Our House” Foundation (OHF) is not a “Johnny come lately” organization. We have been in existence since 2004, but receifved our charter in 2006. We have been keenly aware there is a human tsunami of the returning female military personnel heading our way as this war continues. We have worked slowly and surely toward the ultimate goal of building a transitional “Re-Integration Community: the center for excellence” in, or around Greene County, Missouri.
Where else, in close proximity to the big thriving metropolises of St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City would there be a fit that is so natural? Springfield, the “Queen City” of the Ozarks has: gently rolling hills and knolls; a city that could be considered almost rural in nature and, to increase the enjoyment of its scenic beauty, we take great pride in the many walking & riding trails recently added around and through the city to increase the health and pleasure of all our citizens.
According to the answers given to me by: Dr. C. Alec Pollard, Director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute and Professor of Community and Family Medicine at St. Louis and, Dr. Roger W. Sommi, Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Psychiatry at the schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City, A “Re-Integration Community” for the veteran, who has moderate case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (MST- Military Sexual Trauma should definitely be located away-from the hussle-bussle / sirens / gun-shots/ and loud invasive noises that would have the person revisit the trauma. (Dr. Spilken in discussion with visiting doctors, 2007)
“Our House’s” goal is a planned “comprehensive, rehabilitation” community to transition the newly returned female veteran (2001-present) from disabled soldier to a healthier, more productive civilian. Facility and treatments to be provided will include (but not limited to): state of the art dental, prosthesis, neurological, neuro-psychological, family and individual psychology residents / licensed and intern psychologists, a psychiatrist, medical staff, a plastic & reconstructive surgeon, a dermatologist, an area for research and many other professionals; cutting a wide swath across the technical/semi-technical/semi-professional and professional communities not to mention the skill tradesmen, artists and musicians. Through re-orientation and rehabilitation, “Our House” desires to educate, inspire, and empower our women force.
The difference in our approach is in the environment. “Our House” foundation’s vision addresses the whole person: mind, body AND, most importantly, their expression of spirit. Offering an experiential component (AVP) will allow the veteran women the necessary freedom, space and time to heal, and restore their life-equilibrium and self-esteem essential for their return to a more independent and productive life style with their families or, by themselves..
We have contacted many professionals (as stated above) in the related health & medical / dental / prosthetic, neuro-psychological fields etc. that are/or are willing to train or be trained and eager to jump in and work handling the influx of these wounded warriors.
All of the above has taken almost time, energy, planning and finances. To continue working toward bringing this vision into reality for our brave women, this huge project will continue to need: the finances; the time, and the connections leading to strong partnerships with those professionals (in many other medical fields) who live in this area and those who will need to be brought in and, the support and love from the community. Economically speaking, anytime a community prospers, we need only recognize the business sector of the community as being the primary source of stability and importance for that principality and its surrounding area. Growth is not always followed by or is a reflection of economic prosperity.
By Rita Spilken, Psy.D.- Founder & CEO
- The Nation: “The plight of Women Soldiers” May 6,2009: Helen Benedict:
- NPR – “Veterans Affairs Scrambles to Serve: Female Veterans: Nov 7, 2010: Frank Morris
- New York Times – Lawsuit Says Military Is Rife With Sexual Abuse: Feb. 15, 2011: Ashley Parker
- NPR – “Female Pilot Reflects on War and evolving Army.”:Sept.8, 2010: Quil Lawrence –morning edition