Complex Trauma with Women Veterans

Many of the women veterans I serve suffer from complex trauma. Women veterans have a higher rate of childhood abuse than their civilian counterparts. In addition, military women have approximately a 40% chance of experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST). A lifetime of abuse predisposes women to enter into domestic violence relationships in adulthood. Some women veterans are also married to veterans with PTSD and impulse control issues. This situation can be a real pressure cooker.

Complex Trauma Requires Multifaceted Treatment

I recently worked with a young woman veteran who had been sexually abused as a child and was raped several times in the military. She later married an abusive man. She called me asking for help with her severe PTSD symptoms. With this type of complex trauma, I have to start with where the woman is at right now. That means ensuring personal safety. Therefore, I began by helping her create a safety plan. Then, I referred her to her local Vet Center for specialized MST counseling.

This veteran was not sure if she may have caused the military rapes by somehow putting herself in dangerous situations. The truth is, and the truth always is, she did not. Rape is never the woman’s fault. The only one to blame is the perpetrator. This was very important to convey to this veteran, and important for her to believe so that she would be willing to seek counseling. One of the solutions for her was to get counseling at a Vet Center, and bring her husband into counseling as well. In addition, another solution for her was to get a PTSD service dog, so that she could feel safer going about her errands and daily life.

The Resiliency of Women Vets

Women veterans are the just about the strongest women you will ever meet. Even when they have been through so much trauma, they can still get right back on their feet and move forward with a better life. My job as a social worker is to reconnect them with their inherent strengths to help them heal. I never let them say they are “broken”. They are still breathing, walking and talking, and they are not broken. Although they have been through situations that would break the average woman, they persevere and are incredibly resilient. The best thing I can hear from a woman veteran is that she feels listened to, supported, not judged, and that she knows we care.  Women veterans are not victims. Instead they are survivors and we can help them thrive.

Every day I am in awe of the incredible inner strength of women veterans. I feel blessed with the opportunity to serve these brave women warriors. Please consider giving generously to our Women’s Outreach Program. With your support we can bring on more staff and serve more women. The National Veterans Foundation strives to assist as many women veterans as possible. We need your help.

Mary Ann Mayer, MSW, ASW

Mary Ann Mayer, MSW, ASW, is the Women Veterans Outreach Director at the National Veterans Foundation. She brings extensive experience working with veterans, most recently at New Directions on the VA Campus in West Los Angeles, where she conducted individual and group therapy for homeless men and women vets, including crisis intervention. Prior to that, she was with the Clare Foundation in Santa Monica, working with dual-diagnosis homeless adults, securing housing and providing individual and group therapy. Before that, she was a grants researcher and developed volunteer training programs for the Downtown Women’s Center on Skid Row, Los Angeles. She holds a degree in English and an MFA in creative writing. She completed her MSW at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Mary Ann Mayer

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