Trigger Warning: This post contains adult themes and may be triggering to individuals who have experienced sexual trauma or suicidal thoughts. If you are having thoughts of suicide or have experienced Military Sexual Trauma, please see the resources below. Your local VA Medical Center has programs that are helping Veterans get treatment and heal from their experiences.
Mandy* came to the United States to study at Liberty University. Born in Kenya, she quickly realized how expensive it was to live and study in the United States. An interaction with an on-campus Army recruiter piqued her interest in the military. It would give her an opportunity to continue her education. She also admired people in the military and she was looking for more structure and stability in her life.
She joined the Army and attended basic training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri. She received additional training as a heavy equipment operator but experience discrimination as the only woman in that role. Her co-workers manipulated the situation to force her to take a role as an office clerk rather than operating machinery. She worked in this role completing paperwork for the male heavy equipment operators.
Qualified but Not Accepted
She welcomed a new assignment at Grafenwoehr, Germany. She looked forward to using her heavy equipment training. However, the men in her unit didn’t like her in that role. She faced harassment from others and did not get the support of her supervisor.
While she was stationed in Germany, Mandy kept to herself. She was a wife and mother to three children who stayed in the United States during her tour of duty. Socializing wasn’t important to her. While others enjoyed socializing, Mandy stayed home and enjoyed reading while she waited to be reunited with her family.
Everyday Mandy walked to work and a fellow soldier grew concerned that she walked alone. He befriended her and made sure she got to work safely and returned home safely. After much prodding, her friend convinced her to socialize at the local club on base. “I wanted to fit in, so I thought I would go,” she noted. Her NCO/ supervisor was also at the club that evening.. She ordered a soda and remembers taking a few sips of it. That’s all she remembers of that evening.
The next morning she woke up naked in the bed of the NCO. She had no recollection of the events of the evening or how she got there. She got out of the bed, got dressed and returned to her apartment where she took a shower. “I felt like I could never get clean. I stayed in the shower for a long time just trying to wash away the feelings that I had,” she recalled.
She returned to work, under the supervision of her NCO. He would make offhanded comments to her which she ignored. Then she learned that she was pregnant as a result of the rape.
“I was doing heavy exercise in hopes it would end the pregnancy,”’ said Mandy. A coworker noticed her demeanor and confided that she too had been raped by the same NCO. This friend begged Mandy not to tell anyone. She feared that she and Mandy would be labeled as liars or crazy and suffer more damage both personally and to their careers. Mandy knew there was a stigma about rape. “They blame the victim. They make you feel as if you did something that brought it on or encouraged it,” she added. Talking about it would only cast her in a bad light and possibly end her career. The military routinely believed the rapist and not his victim.
Her friend, Renee* arranged for her to have an abortion. Mandy couldn’t tell her husband. She worried that he would never believe her story.
She returned back to the United States and was reunited with her husband and family. She enrolled in college as a criminal justice major. Her goal was to become an attorney. She and her husband began to think about expanding their family. Mandy was also the step mother of her husband’s daughter who was born during their marriage.
After returning home and consumed with the emotions from her rape, Mandy felt she needed to share her experience with her husband. She hoped it would help her on her road to healing from the trauma and she would have the support of her husband. Unfortunately, her husband used the story to further traumatize her. “If we would get into an argument he would say “I’m not your rapist,” said Mandy. This inflicted additional deep psychological trauma on her.
Mandy learned she was pregnant with twins. During her pregnancy, the arguments between her and her husband became physical. Mandy left the abusive environment for the safety of herself and her family.
While family and friends supported her decision to leave, she received little help from them. Her sister opened her home for a week and then asked them to leave. They became homeless.
It was particularly devastating to Mandy. “ I had been sending my sister money to open two group homes while I was overseas,” she said. In addition to providing funding for the purchase of the homes, Mandy provided money to renovate and furnish the homes. She considered herself a partner in the business and believed in the work her sister was doing.
Shelters in the area couldn’t take large families and they had no place to go.
Homeless and Desperate
Mandy’s mother would allow them to stay during the weekends. With no other options available, Mandy found a hotel room for her family. While it wasn’t ideal, it was also very expensive. With money running out, Mandy knew she needed to find another option. There were none available.
Desperate to provide a stable environment for her children, Mandy began the process of putting her children up for adoption. “ I knew they needed stability that I couldn’t provide for them. I had no other choice but to let someone else give them a better future than I could,” she recalled with painful emotion in her voice. “It was the darkest day of my life.” Mandy decided that after the children were placed in their adoptive homes, she would end her own life. “The pain of not having my children was too much to bear–I couldn’t go on without them,” she said.
She made a call to 2-1-1 in a final attempt to keep the family together as long as possible. Thankfully they connected her to Supportive Services for Veteran Families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She spoke to case manager Kim Hartman. “She was so kind. I was very skeptical. I wondered why this woman would be willing to help me,” said Mandy. She found it difficult to trust anyone after all she had been through. “All the people I had trusted in my life, let me down,” she said. “Kim was a complete stranger offering me shelter, food and other services–it seemed too good to be true. I was convinced that this was a trick or she wanted something in return,” added Mandy. Kim’s only motive was helping Veterans.
Helping Veterans Through Difficult Times
Kim remained calm and continued to explain the services that were available to Mandy. “I explained the Veterans Programs to her. I assured her that we could provide a hotel room for the family and food to address their immediate needs,” stated Kim.. She accepted the help but continued to doubt Kim’s motives.
One day she was at a local store and struck up a conversation with a clerk. The clerk, who was also a Veteran, shared his experience working with the Veterans Program and the service he received from Kim Hartman. “He told me she was legit and he recommended I continue to work with her, ”added Mandy.
Eventually, Mandy found a house and SSVF provided the security deposit and first month’s rent. This gave Mandy and her family the support they needed to get back on their feet. Today, Mandy is enrolled in the Shallow Subsidy program which pays 50 percent of her monthly rent for 24 months. “The program helps me budget money and I’m actually able to save money.”
Today, Mandy works as a CNA in a local nursing home. She met Veterans at the home and enjoys hearing their stories.
Through the Veterans Program, Mandy is getting the ongoing counseling and support she needs through the local VA Medical Center in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. She has completed her Bachelor’s degree in Law and Policy. In December, she will graduate with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Liberty University. After graduation, she’ll take the LSAT exams and hopes to enroll in Law School.
Resources for helping Veterans who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma
For those who have experienced military sexual trauma, help is available at your local VA Hospital including Lebanon VA Medical Center for Veterans living in Berks and Lancaster Counties.
Learn more about Military Sexual Trauma.
Suicide Hotline Resource for Helping Veterans or Non-Veterans
Available 24/7. Dial 988 and then press 1 or text 838255. This is available for Veterans or non-Veterans.
Dial 9-1-1 in your area.
^ All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.
Effective 10/1/22 Opportunity House no longer manages the Supportive Services for Veteran Families grant in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If you are a homeless veteran or facing eviction, please call 2-1-1 for assistance.