[Marxism] Women At War: Scarred Survivors
Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Tue Mar 8 11:32:54 MST 2005
Part III of the Sacramento Bee's series
Women at War: Scarred survivors
To save band-width, I have cherry-picked from this article, which is
about 3 times as long as represented here.
There is a related article at the bottom and also a photo gallery for
By Pamela Martineau and Steve Wiegand, March 8, 2005
No one shot at Pamela Schultz. But something in Schultz was deeply
"It's not just that you were there and you could die, it's the way you
lived," she says. "My body ain't broke. "It's my mind and heart."
There's nothing new about what's wrong with Pamela Schultz, 48, whose
friends call her "P.K." During the American Civil War, it was "Da
Costa's syndrome," named after a doctor who wrote about the symptoms.
During World War I, it was "shell shock," and in World War II "battle
Even its current name, "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD), dates
back 25 years, when psychiatrists began using the term to describe the
malady among Vietnam War vets.
And medical experts fear that as U.S. troops return from the war, it
could prove to be far more prevalent among female vets than among their
Women like Schultz, whose mood swings are so sudden and severe she must
take breaks from her office job to retreat to a restroom and "just
Or Linda Wesner, 45, a California National Guard soldier from
Sacramento, who came under fire several times as a heavy equipment
truck driver in Iraq. Shortly after returning home, Wesner was in
uniform at a pancake house when she was hugged from behind by a
patriotic elderly woman.
Instinctively, Wesner flipped the woman to the floor.
Women at greater risk
The Department of Veterans Affairs medical division estimates it
currently treats about 87,000 vets with PTSD, ...twice the rate of
those who returned from the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
And studies done after the Gulf War found that female troops were twice
as likely as male troops to develop PTSD, reflecting the 2-to-1 ratio
of female-to-male PTSD sufferers in the general U.S. population.
Clinicians who treat women suffering from military-related PTSD say
that their self-image can be an obstacle to receiving treatment. After
serving in the military, many women no longer view themselves as
veterans, the clinicians report; therefore they don't connect their
symptoms to their military trauma.
They often will check "no" on a questionnaire when asked if they are a
vet, but "yes" when asked if they have served in the military. One VA
study found 57 percent of the women interviewed did not know they were
eligible for VA programs.
Yet many researchers believe female troops actually have greater need
for PTSD treatment programs for reasons rooted in both environment and
Physiology may play a role
Anyone who has been sexually assaulted before entering the military,
then suffers more trauma, is at greater risk of developing PTSD. And
women are more likely than men to have been sexually assaulted at some
point in their lives.
"The military can be seen as a way to get away from a bad environment,"
said Dr. Paula Schnurr, deputy executive director of the VA's National
Center for PTSD in Vermont. "The idea of trying to go to a place that
is safe and structured, and then finding in fact that it is not ... It
really makes things worse."
P.K. Schultz, for example, vividly recalls standing in a chow line in
Jordan and asking a drunken soldier of lesser rank to watch his
language. When the soldier raised a fist to punch Schultz, an MP
intervened. The next day, Schultz says, a colonel sharply questioned
her version of events.
"You'd have thought I did something wrong," she said.
Other studies have shown women deplete serotonin, a substance that
helps combat depression, more quickly than men and regenerate it more
slowly. And menstrual cycles may also play a role in making women more
vulnerable in stressful situations.
All of which is of only passing interest to female vets like Schultz,
whose post-service nadir came when her sister found her sitting in the
dark in her Pocket-area home, unkempt, with no food in her cupboards or
Schultz just wants to feel better.
"You feel no worth. No motivation. No hope," she says. "It takes
everything I have to try to make my lunch to go to work."
A dive into despair
Like many young people from families of modest means, Schultz left her
hometown of Petaluma at age 19 and joined the Army to get financial aid
Schultz became the first woman in California certified to load weapons
onto F-4 Phantom jets, and was honored by her unit as Noncommissioned
Officer of the Year. She trained as a medic, and earned an associate of
"I liked the continuity," Schultz said. "The uniformity. The structure."
But more than 15 years of service in the Reserve didn't prepare Schultz
for the reality of life in the Jordanian tent city of 6,000 people that
served as a supply base for units in Iraq.
"They'd never been away from home," she recalled. "Some were still
living with mom and dad and then they were going off to war. I saw
young girls just petrified. Other girls just lived to get drunk and get
A born-again Christian, Schultz was appalled by what seemed to her the
reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah: Tents that reeked of alcohol,
smoke and vomit. Couples standing cots on their sides to form an area
for sex. Illegal affairs involving enlisted personnel, noncommissioned
officers and officers.
Coupled with the assault on her sense of morality were the
conversations with troops taking a break from the fighting in Iraq.
"They'd describe the smells, the sounds, the cries, the screams," she
said, "and then they'd want to go back and just kill."
Schultz found herself in a continual state of fear and despair,
carrying her chemical attack protective gear everywhere and dreading
the next blast from the warning sirens and the loudspeaker warnings to
In 2003, shortly after her unit returned to the States, Schultz retired
from the Reserve. She sat through a mandatory, but brief, group lecture
about adjusting to life at home. But unlike active duty military
personnel who return to bases and are surrounded by colleagues and
commanders who might notice PTSD symptoms, Schultz was on her own.
She went days without showering and rarely went outside. She couldn't
work, and began drawing on state disability benefits, which made her
feel "like a whore on Main Street."
Schultz hit bottom the day last summer that her sister found her
despondent, sitting alone in the dark, and took her to a local VA
outpatient center. Workers there referred her to the VA medical
facility at Mather Field, and followed her there to make sure she went.
After weeks of outpatient counseling, Schultz developed some tools to
deal with her PTSD, and got a job at an in-home health care service -
for half her salary as a full-time reservist. After a few months at her
new job, Schultz fell behind on the rent on her Pocket home and was
forced to move to a much smaller duplex near Country Club Plaza.
Her performance review said she lacked communication skills. "To say
that I can't communicate, that's been like my strongest gift all my
life," she said as she read over the review. "It's like a slap in the
Mobilizing to treat PTSD
By many estimates, the VA mental health care system already is grossly
underfunded. The American Psychiatric Association, for example,
estimated last October that while the number of VA patients with severe
PTSD increased 42 percent from 1996 to 2001, VA spending on PTSD
increased only 22 percent. The APA said it would take an additional
$500 million a year for the next four years just to close the gap
between available resources and mental health program needs.
At the VA's PTSD center in White River Junction, Vt., researchers are
completing a $5 million study of 384 female vets with PTSD. "We don't
have expert therapists on this," said Dr. Schnurr, the study's
co-director, "so we have been training therapists as we go. If this is
found to be effective, it will give us more confidence that the
treatment will work in large health care systems."
Programs ... are likely to be inundated over the next few years.
Mike Miracle, a counselor who's worked at the center since 1980, said
he's never treated as many patients a month as he does now. Because of
the crush, patients can't be seen as often as they might need to be.
"Fifteen years ago I would see a vet every week," said Miracle. "That
doesn't exist anymore. The only people I see once a week now are crisis
Recovery can be elusive
P.K. Schultz had moved out of crisis mode and was seeing her VA
counselor monthly. Recently, though, she went back to once-a-week
visits. Her life is unraveling again.
She sold her truck back to the dealer because she couldn't afford the
payments. And she's moving again - for the fourth time in less than two
years. The only thing that seems to endure is the depression and
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," she said.
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