Saturday, November 14, 2015

Every Breath You Take Part 2

Every move you make
Every breath you take
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you.-Sting (C) 1983 A&M Records Ltd

If you haven't read part 1 of the story of Monisha Rios and her struggles in the military, you might want to check that out. THE INVISIBLE WARRIOR REPORT: Every Breath You Take Part 1 
Supposedly we want to encourage bright and eager young people to Be all that they can be--- Remember that's what the Army slogan use to say. But now returning to civilian life, Monisha still walked that perceived slut walk that most women do, when they don't cooperate or when they become whistle-blowers against the system.

I'm reminded of a single line from the movie: The Invisible Warrior, when a female Veteran (Kori
Kori Cioca Battling for Vets Benefits
Cioca) exclaims in astonishment: "What The F**k is going on with the VA?"
Broken people look for safe harbors to reach. They, like any of us who have escaped the undertow of darkness, gasp for air and the chance to breath and find life. Monisha Rios, a young veteran was seeking to rebuild her life and to heal from the trauma and nightmares.

She was denied at first, the most basic services, which took more time.  She had an honorable discharge, and the Veteran's Administration argued that she came up short of the standard 24 month eligibility. The VA told her she was not a victim and not entitled to those services. At the time she didn't feel empowered to fight for her rights so Monisha took the bad news and moved on. Her mind and body told her "something is wrong with me." But the VA told her she did not have any real problems. So she was pushed out of the boat of help that was supposed to be granted to all Veterans who come marching home.

Every Vow They Make

Imagine if you had an infliction attacking you, but no one believed you? You feel it, and you know its real, but you're told: "Nope, nothing wrong with you." And so you go untreated for years. Time did not erase the shock and terror associated with her sexual assaults while in the army. In fact the depression, anxiety, overwhelming fear, and nightmares were a regular thing. The biggest challenge came to Monisha when she finally qualified for VA care while in college working on her degree in social work.

"My entrance into mental health services was terrifying. One day, I walked into the Women’s Clinic and whispered to the check-in clerk that I was afraid of myself. I’d never felt that way before. The therapist on call came to talk to me and together we discovered I was not actually going to self-harm, but could probably use some therapy. Sadly, they didn’t ask more than the “were you raped on active duty” question and I was put into groups with men. Needless to say, I didn’t go to those. They prescribed sleeping pills and pain pills that made me so tired I flunked a semester. After about 5 sessions with a female therapist, she was transferred to another facility. That was it for me for a while. I continued receiving physical health care and did my best to manage the other stuff on my own."

Neither the VA nor the Women's Health Services helped to pinpoint the reason for what Monisha was dealing with. In her Masters program for social work, she eventually got to the heart of the problem. It was like pulling back the prickly leaves of an artichoke to get to it. Someone threw her a lifeline six years later in a study on PTSD. While reading the material, Monisha discovered that what she was experiencing was real. It validated everything that had happened to her right down to the verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation, and threats. Plus she now knew that she should have been eligible for help without serving for 24 months. She had missed out on getting help from 1998 to 2010. (I wouldn't have wanted to be the person who gave her the bum steer at that point.)

Every Game They Play

Maybe a combination of anger and the will to live kept her going on, not only just to find the truth for
herself, but also how to get help for others as well. Fear will always try to push you back down with depression and anxiety, guilt and shame. No doubt, Miss Rios continued to battle those demons in her lone hours, as well as dealing with the people who marginalized her problem and in some cases, turned a blind eye to the continued harassment she would face in the VA hospital setting.
After graduating from college, Monisha had a new job as a licensed eligible clinical social worker in West Virginia, and had a better sense of what mental health services were all about. She married her high school crush who was also a Veteran, and became an instant step-mom. Now in a new state and with her family, the uphill battle continued as she walked the maze of the local VA hospital, filled with the day-mares of apathetic staff and others. After contacting the MST coordinator, no one called her back for over 12 months. During that time she and her family had their fortunes reversed and they lost their home, which put them on the homeless list.

When she and her then-husband moved in to the homeless program at that VA, they had to do so as single Vets because at that time there were no couples facilities available. In reality the couples facilities were being used for storage purposes at this particular West Virginia VA homeless program. The married couples were definitely not on their high priority. The couple were told; "you're not allowed to kiss, hold hands, and definitely no sex because it's not  fair to the single Veterans."  The campus police acting on a tip confronted the Veteran married couple in the chapel area. "We were told you came in here to have sex together!" Obviously they were not, They were simply enjoying some private time together and trying to heal as a family unit. This just added to the harassment from other male Vets and made life for them bad. As they walked through the facilities together, other men leered at her and told Rios's husband to keep her close. He was not allowed to protect her, or retaliate against the unwanted harassment or advances made.  Male eyes would be peering through the cracks in doors and windows just to catch a glimpse of her and other female residence in the women's section.

Every Step They Take

Experiencing more threats and retaliation, Rios was re-living her old boot camp experiences again. One of the
Even going to the VA you can be a target for unwanted attention
other male vets in the same program would send her little notes, and cards which elevated to stalking and harassment. Of course what else can a victim do when living in this "Hear, See, and Speak No Evil Land?" She gather recorded evidence that this sly guy was sexually harassing her and other female vets. Staff members ignored her at first. But finally she and her husband made their case; this patient was given a warning that the harassment and stalking needed to stop and also he was not to talk to any of the female veterans. Monisha's victory would be slightly short because as she was sitting in a quiet place eating alone, the outraged Vet came in with cane in hand to confront her. This was deja vu all over again from Tech school and the biting airman. (See Part One) The only thing that snapped him out of it was another female Vet who witness the scene and promised to report him. At that point he seemed to turn heel and retreat. Visibly more afraid and shaken by the crazed threats Monisha, went to her room and, reported it to the staff who in return alerted the VA police. Fortunately he was removed from the campus and not allowed to come back. After the removal of this patient, things calmed down for her and her husband; and Monisha was able to advocate for better conditions while raising awareness of the staff, and even receiving an apology for her treatment there.

When moving to Delaware and continuing her MST treatments, Miss Rios would find herself again struggling just to maneuver from a waiting area to various stations in the VA hospital with harassers in hot pursuit.  It took a long time to her first appointment at this new VA, but on the first day she was again subjected to unwanted attention by another Vet. While sitting in the waiting area with wedding ring on, she was hit on again by a man who wouldn't take no for a answer.

 "Unfortunately the VA is where a lot of this stuff happens. Unless you're going to the Women's clinic which is sequestered for women, then you're a sitting duck. I was waiting to meet with the Psychiatrist (which I did not want to meet with anyway) and this male veteran came and sat next to me and started talking. (Which is no big deal.) And then eventually started asking for my phone number--- telling me I looked just like his therapist who he had a crush on--- and started to go in an inappropriate direction--- 'oh I like you, you seem like such a nice person--- I want to get to know you--- can we go out?'--- Even though I was wearing a wedding ring and even though I said no thank you--- I'm not interested, I'm married--- (being the nice person I am, and not wanting to tell this guy off.) The door faced the psychiatrist office so he, the male veteran) knew where I was going.  And while I was in there, I told the psychiatrist--- 'this just happened in the waiting room--- I'm not comfortable going back out by myself. Could you call someone to escort me?' and she said 'Oh I'll make a note of it in your clinical notes.'
The psychologist appeared detached and very automated in her responses. Who knows if this was a buffering device she used to stay above what was happening, or a "I could care less what's going on" attitude, to just cope with their surroundings. Monisha was taken aback by the cool attitude.
"I’m also a mental health professional. So I know how this was supposed to go. She was supposed to do her part to keep me safe. This man is standing right outside her door.  And her response was to put it into my clinical notes? Wrong answer. She should have addressed it with him directly, using crisis prevention and intervention skills. If he escalated, she should have called on other staff, and in the worst case, the VA police to assist.”
Apparently according to Rios, this was another "head in the sand" situation in the system. Fortunately, her next stop was at the Women's section of the clinic where she could escape this "don't take no for an answer" individual. As soon as that appointment was over, he was on her trail again; out to the parking lot. Fortunately, a VA employee did intervene, as he overheard Monisha protesting to the male Vet to leave her alone. Tactfully, the employee moved in between both of them and disarmed the situation. Sadly she spent many appointments trying to avoid this one individual by walking in the opposite direction or jumping into an elevator. I wonder why security doesn't review it's policies on people (ex-GI or not) who just loiter the grounds and harass others? Before a MST/PTSD victim can make it from the parking lot to their first appointment, they are often subjected to over staring, cat-calls, whistles, inappropriate comments, and gestures, possibly even being groped or worse. A place that they come to for help and treatment, turns into a place where re-victimization is almost a sure bet.  Suffering is exacerbated. New trauma symptoms develop. Their families and relationships are often the ignored casualties. Sadly, like is true with many veteran families, Monisha’s marriage did not survive the series of extreme, undue hardships - many of which were preventable by practicing good ethics in providing care.

People like Monisha Rios and Ruth Moore, a sexual assault victim turned advocate, are speaking out on behalf of Veterans who have been sexually assaulted, discarded by the military, and denied even their most basic benefits, aside from the help they need with their ongoing battle with PTSD.

Ruth Moore: Battling For Benefits Click link for story

Monisha Rios: MST, PTS, and Human Rights Advocate
Monisha Rios has accomplished so much to help other people in the battle against re-victimization, Sexual Assault, and harassment that not only happens to women in the military, but to men, as well as the Gay and Transgender Community. The important thing to remember that the Invisible War doesn't just begin and end when you leave the military, but is pervasive in the systems that have gone unchecked.
She continues as a speaker and advocate for Veterans who are battling the Veteran Affairs system, and has been invited to speak out of on talk shows including Project Censored: Sex Crimes in the VA.

Thank you, Monisha for both interviews. I'm proud to know you. Happy Veterans Day to all my fellow Vets, and Invisible Warriors.  I know we've got a long ways to go, but each story you bring makes a difference.

It's On Us