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VA offers effective treatment for military sexual trauma

Apr 12, 2022, 5:27 PM | Updated: Jun 20, 2022, 1:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITYOne in three women in the U.S. military is a victim of military sexual trauma, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Too many suffer in silence before they get the help they need, but the Salt Lake City VA offers treatment and healing for women and men who are ready to take the first step.

April is sexual assault awareness month, so it’s a good time to break through the silence that shrouds this issue.

Chelsea Snoey was assaulted while serving in the U.S. Navy. Today, she feels like she is getting better emotionally and psychologically.

“I think it’s shaped me. I think it’s helped me to grow a lot as a person,” Snoey said of her eight years in the Navy.

She enjoyed it too, she said. She shook off her shyness working as a hospital corpsman. But at her first duty station in South Carolina, Snoey was sexually assaulted by a fellow corpsman. When she sought help, she said, she wasn’t believed.

“Oh, you just have an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood. I’m all, really? I’m having trouble adjusting? Well, no wonder, I just got assaulted by a fellow corpsman, another service member who worked with me,” she said.

Snoey was heartbroken.

“It was somebody that was supposed to watch my back and they didn’t,” the veteran said.

Snoey reported it because she did not want that man to hurt anyone else, but she felt resistance. She was moved to a new department. Otherwise, she said, nothing happened.

“They weren’t taking it very seriously,” she said.

She experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was always looking over her shoulder. She said she always felt cautious and uncertain in relationships.

“This entity that I’ve given my life to, that I’m willing to dedicate everything, to failed me,” she said. “They didn’t take care of me like they were supposed to.”

Military sexual trauma, or MST, is what the VA calls sexual assault or sexual harassment during service.

Dr. Amber Martinson, MST program coordinator at the Salt Lake VA, said many victims fear retaliation.

“If they feel that if they speak up or say something that they may not be met with that support, and that is often the case, or has been the case for a while where people didn’t get the support that they needed,” the clinical psychologist said.

Men are victims, too.

Healing after MST takes time and difficult, introspective work in counseling, but Snoey said it’s worth it.

“It has given me a sense of control back in my life,” she said.

She connected with the VA two years ago, and got the acceptance and treatment she needed.

“I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time,” the veteran said.

She expects the trauma will always be there, in spite of the counseling work she has done, but she’s learning to live with it.

“I’m just trying to find space around it and find a life worth living with that still there,” she said.

The VA uses treatments proven to reduce symptoms as much as 75% in 6 to 12 sessions, depending upon the specific trauma and the case, Martinson said.

“While it’s hard, while it’s scary, and while people may have had so many negative experiences up until that point, there is hope and there is a lot of opportunities for growth and for healing if they do reach out,” the psychologist said.

“I’m not this broken shell of a person that I thought I was before. I deserve to be loved,” the veteran said.

Snoey can now have happy, healthy relationships, and encourages others to reach out to the VA for help if they are struggling with military sexual trauma.

“Talking about it can help give you space around it to live a life worth living again, or have that love and that security and safety around you again,” she said.

If you or someone you love has experienced military sexual trauma, call the Salt Lake City VA at 801-582-1565 and ask for the military sexual trauma program.

To help the VA raise awareness, visit www.MentalHealth.va.gov/SAAM, where you’ll find helpful resources and materials you can explore and share with others. By spreading the word and learning more about this topic, you can help MST survivors move forward on their healing journey.

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VA offers effective treatment for military sexual trauma