empty stairs….

empty stairs-drawn by jay herron 2006
Originally uploaded by jayfherron

It will be three weeks tomorrow that I met with a judge to describe the way my life has been since I was raped and sexually assaulted when I was an enlisted sailor in the Navy – I was 18 years old.
I’m 56 now.
Since then I lived an erratic life-I became dependent on alcohol and drugs and lived most of my life on the edge.
The things that happened became my hidden secret-but yet at times I felt a person could look right at me and know…yet the ones that could’ve mattered never knew.
As I’ve written before-I wrote a letter to the mental health clinic at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Gainesville Florida and complained and explained that the ‘anti-depressant’ drugs they prescribed made me feel as if I was high on something-so I dumped them. My point to them was it had taken me a long battle to learn that drugs and drinking was not going to eliminate the memory of what has happened to me-so I quit…and then the answer the mental health clinic has is to give me a medicine that makes me feel up beat by chemicals….???
The letter prompted nearly three years of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) treatment by a therapist that was especially trained in MST (military sexual trauma). These therapy meetings explained to me for the first time why I was the way I am-and why I fear such things as simple as going into a building,or worse yet-a restroom…and myriad patterns in my behavior that I knew existed but not exactly what to do to deal with them…but for most of my life did. All be it-drunk or sedated by some form of lets get high.

Through these three years at some point the wheels began to turn in regards to justice and validation…stuff that occured to me would ever be possible-that it could ever be so that something from my past so long ago that ate at me for all these years would once again be of interest to anyone. But here we are…and three weeks ago I sat in front of a judge from the Veterans Administration and told him my story.
I have to say this…there is no way I can put my life down into another persons heart in two hours-there is nothing I can explain about my past 37 years-almost 38…to any one in just two hours.
So I have no idea how to comment.

As you can appreciate-by the years of silence being turned around to the past three years of expressing this has been a different ride that has made several changes in me. I felt at one point it was well enough left alone-it became an issue full time…it has always been an issue full time for me,but now it is an issue for many others.
I was told in order to begin to heal I had to challenge this thing and hold the Navy accountable for what had happened.
To do this the order of things in the process as set up by the government is that a veteran who has a claim against the military-one must appeal to his local ‘veterans service officer’.
In my case this was a retired ‘gunny’ who had only the concept of being wounded in battle-but not wounded by sexual assault. This mans ignorence and blend of bigotry not only assaulted me…but made me angry to the point I decided to take this by the horns and hand hang on til its all over.
It was quiet and my personal miserable memory alone-the ‘veterans service officer’ made me want to cower like I did when the officer who saw my condition back the day it happend-he chuckles a laugh and says ‘get used to it’…my gunny reminded me of that.

A study done in association between in service sexual harrasment and PTSD among Department of Veterans Affairs disability applicants-the study was done through the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis Minnesota which its conclusions were published in an article in PSYCHIATRIC TIMES and also in MILITARY TIMES in Frerurary 2006….
(Mauren Murdoch,Melisa Polusney,James Hodges,Diane Cowpar)
….these researchers did a national cross study of 4918 eligible veterans with an effective return response of 3337 of those (a response of 68%) 6.5% combat veterans and 16.5% non combat veterans reported an in service sexual assault.
The conclusion of this report was that reported rates of sexual assault were considerably higher among veterans seeking Veterans Affairs disability for PTSD than historically reported.

Now I’m not going to break all this down further other than to say the numbers broke down to the surveys participants were 1654 men and 1683 woman.
Survivors-we know there are numbers of us…It is not right that those of us who seek validation-and justice should have to begin the wheel turning by going to the office of a former ‘gunny’ who understands little to nothing about what survivors of sexual assault are going through.
The system for many of us is not in place-it works for many others but we are kept in our box because of the shame and guilt that goes along with the way we’ve been victimized-and over and over again…it is impossible to trust and find the way out of that box-but for us to become stronger…and to begin to heal-we need to!
If this judge decides my points are strong enough to decide in my favor….I don’t see it as in my favor at all. I would have never started this on my own-going to a veterans affairs office and file a complaint.
Its too late in my life for compensation to do anything worth while…how can you pay someone and replace what has been taken?
But interestingly-to stand up to the man and say “you got to hear me” makes you feel a little more confident about yourself….whew,if you’d have told me five years ago-ten years ago?? I have said thats a dream. Now it feels like a dream…
If the judge see’s it my way it will be favorable to all of us-because it will pave the way for others to start the process for themselves….it will say we can fight against the way we were violated-against those who violated us.
I gave in a long time ago…but this time I’m not going to give up.
We need to change the way its done….we need someone sensitive and special to seek the way justice starts….no more gunny’s.
If we win this we will be boosted into another level of how to find the way to make a change for the countless other veterans that deserve confidential support to lead the way…we need to do this!

2 Responses to “empty stairs….”

  1. Austin Says:

    It takes more strength to stand up in the face of authority and say “he was wrong” than it does to stand in the face of an enemy w/ a gun. The strength you showed on that day in court is nothing short of honorary.

    I find the stats of women and men interesting as well as the fact that the number of those sexually assaulted during service were more likely to apply for benefits. Those stats speak loud and clear. What was taken is different than an arm or a leg and it should be treated as such.

    Perhaps the more people who come forward w/ reports should tell “gunnies” to “get use to it.” Silence isn’t an option, get use to us speaking up, coming forward and demanding you recognize and see the problem. “Get use to it” we aren’t going to be silent.


  2. rhea Says:

    Hi, I’m Rhea. My heart goes out to you for all that you’ve been through, and are still going through. I know how devastating sexual abuse is. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD a few times, and I’ve always self-medicated with drugs & alcohol to deal with it (which has in turn led to more abuse). I’ve often felt transparent too, like people can look at me and just know. I’ve felt that most of my life. Drugs create a barrier between the world and me.

    I’m so glad you were able to find a counselor that was experienced in both PTSD and MST. I’m awed by your perseverance in pursuing justice and validation, and for having the courage to make your voice heard. I don’t think I would ever be that brave. You’re making a difference for yourself and for others, which is truly commendable.

    I’ll be following your story…thanks for having the courage to share it.

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