By Anesia Byrdwell
Cliff Kelly, on air personality at radio station WVON 1690, recently featured discussion of a topic very rarely talked about concerning veterans and Armed Forces Service members. Kelly hosts the weekly discussion roundtable America’s Heroes Group. The roundtable focuses on issues relevant to military veterans and active military personnel. The subject of the Saturday September 22, 2018 show was Military Sexual Trauma, also known as MST.
The week’s special segment of the show included guest speakers Dr. Angel Buchanan, a Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator; Director of the Jessie Brown VA, Marc McGill; Army and Navy Veteran Terry Odom; and a male Army veteran using the single name, Glen. America’s Heroes Group panelists explained the term MST should become as much a part of mainstream culture and American culture as the well-known phrase PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome).
Dr. Buchanan started the discussion, addressing the importance of helping veterans suffering with Military Sexual Trauma. Per Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D, MST is defined as any type of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual assault that occurred during military service. It does not matter if the survivor is male or female, or if the traumatic event occurred on or off base, or on or off duty. Perpetrators can be military subordinates, higher ups, civilian, or military ranking officers, men, women, or a significant other.
Survivors often fear that they won’t be believed if they report the sexual assault. McGill says the Jessie Brown VA immediately takes all claims seriously and asks all military vets if they have ever experienced Military Sexual Trauma. Victims worry about negative consequences, not being believed, and retaliation from people who belong to their unit.
The percentage of veterans facing MST is underestimated because some vets will not admit that they experienced Military Sexual Trauma. The numbers reported are staggering, with 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men reporting as victims of Military Sexual Trauma. The numbers could greatly increase if there is more awareness made about personnel who experience sexual assault in the military.
Terry Odom’s MST experience is one of the most horrifying. She became friends with a higher up who was married. Odom left a military social event when the higher up offered to walk her to her apartment. When the two arrived at her apartment the perpetrator proceeded to rape, sexually assault, stab, and torture her inside her own apartment bathroom. When Terry reported the incident to various superiors she was not taken seriously, and eventually was arrested for allegedly making false claims against the higher up.
When Odom was finally hospitalized, she found out she was pregnant. She was forced to have an abortion because bringing a child into the world would have been too much evidence of the Military Sexual Trauma she claimed. Odom also had to pay for the abortion using her own money.
She was then told that she could stay in the military if she attended an alcohol abuse program, even though she had no history of alcohol abuse. When Odom went to the alcohol abuse program she was told that she didn’t have an alcohol problem and was sent back to the base. She reported to the psychiatrist on base what was told to her at the alcohol abuse clinic; she was then forced to end her military career.
Odom received an honorable discharge with a mental health diagnosis that prevented her from ever enlisting again. This was the end of her military career. She is now a national speaker and advocate for Military Sexual Trauma, and a full-time volunteer at the St. Louis VA as a veteran’s advisor.
Adultery is a crime in the military and Odom was treated like a criminal because her perpetrator was married. She received a skull fracture and multiple stab wounds from the attack. When she confronted her perpetrator a few days after the incident he told Odom, “I can’t believe you lived through that.” The perpetrator went on to retire with military honors and full benefits. He never received any consequence for his horrific acts against Odom.
Glen is a male who went into the military with a promising future at 18. Instead of being placed in military housing with someone his own age, Glen was placed with an older gentleman who sexually assaulted and raped him. Glen reported the incident in 1998. His claims of dealing with Military Sexual Trauma were not taken seriously. In 2010 Glen was denied help from the VA. He eventually became a homeless vet hooked on drugs and alcohol. Glen says he is “upset because there’s a broken system.” He cannot get medical benefits and never received any therapy for the traumatic incident that took place when he was 18.
Both Glen and Terry Odom speak frequently on Military Sexual Trauma and hope there will be a change to the system where victims receive the help that they need.
America’s Heroes Group panelists say the military is like a family, and when a service member wants to report an incident of sexual assault he or she is faced with various obstacles and challenges. Both veterans insist that they still have pride in the military. But both desperately want a change made to the way the military deals with Military Sexual Trauma victims.
In partnership with the Chicago Crusader Newspaper Group, the America’s Heroes Group radio show honors the dedication and sacrifice of military personnel. Round table discussions address veterans’ and active military issues and concerns, empowering veterans by being the hub for veterans’ affairs information, resources, and referrals. Hosted by Cliff Kelley, America’s Heroes Group airs weekly on WVON 1690 AM, Saturdays from 4-5 PM/CST.