Open Letter to a VA Center

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Guest Author: Eve Baker

(names have been changed for privacy)

Dear Center, I'm working really hard this year at speaking my truth instead of keeping it silent or hidden in shame. I realize I am very good at covering my pain with a smile, it's how I have learned to cope. It is easier for me to express myself non-verbally rather than verbally due to the punishment and traumas I underwent. I am going to be direct and honest about my current feelings with women's mental health to make sure my voice is heard in a medium that I am comfortable with, writing.

Last year I asked the intern I was reluctantly put under the care of for help processing my feelings concerning the lack of support I underwent by the military in response to reporting my rape. I had no one believe or listen to me except a fellow soldier who was stationed four hours away that I went to high school with. I loved him. He was the only one to believe me and my story. And he also was very sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive. I was sexually tortured. I had alcohol bottles put up my vagina. I had part of my nipple bit off. I was sodomized several times, and eventually went to sick call for treatment for hemorrhoids and tears that I had causing extreme pain and bleeding. The doctor closed the door and had me turn around and put his finger up by butt hole to confirm the hemorrhoids diagnosis even though it was clearly visible outside my anus.

The man who I came to trust and love would also carve his name into my stomach with a knife. He strangled me with intention to killing me because I would not give him a password to an account of mine. He would get mad at me and hit me across the face. He would tickle me until I peed myself. He would tell me I looked like a clown, that I was stupid, talked funny, and a POG (piece of garbage). But still I loved him and I still struggle with different emotions I have regarding this experience. This may seem extreme but that is because it was nothing compared to the daily taunting, daily proposition for sex, daily sexual harassment, daily gender discrimination, and pure hell that was for me on base. He was my escape from Fort Benning. He was the reason I didn't kill myself or go AWOL. Even though I realize I am damaged somewhere in side by the things he did to me, he is also a savior for me.

What I am trying to demonstrate here is that my trauma is not isolated to a single incident of rape. I tried to share this with the intern and I was told right afterward that my treatment would end because there was no "appointment slots" to discuss this type of trauma. Then I was brought into a group meeting where I felt frozen and terrified and told there were no resources at the clinic to help me and I needed to go to Florida for an inpatient program, although details of how long I'd be there were unknown. My other option was substance abuse for my choice to use pot to medicate to treat my anxiety, depression, and psychosis. I went to substance abuse treatment upstairs and spoke to the psychiatrist specializing in dual diagnosis (not an intern),I talked to my psychiatrist Dr. Howard, and I talked to an outside medical doctor regarding my symptoms. I attended Harm Reduction with the VA and I went to the daily detox program with substance abuse. At both places I was taunted and laughed at for being there for "marijuana addiction". The VA does not offer beds for detox from marijuana because its not considered an addiction and its use in the treatment of PTSD is still being explored.

I was repeatedly told that marijuana is okay for me to use, given my trauma history and severe emotional pain I experience when I get triggered and have flashbacks on a daily basis. I considered the side effects I experienced from the medications the VA had me on, with high cholesterol, weight gain, grogginess, inability to focus, and high chance of miscarriage should I become pregnant. I did become pregnant, stopped as much medication as deemed safe with the help of Dr. Howard, but unfortunately still had a miscarriage. When I cut off my medication the VA gave me, my anxiety was far worst than that when I don't smoke pot for a day. It has taken me almost a year to return to my pre-medicated self. I've decided to use marijuana as medication because there are less side effects. My weight has stabilized, my cholesterol is normal, and I can speak and talk with more clarity. I've decided to follow the medical advice of the three medical doctors that I have consulted in this area, all of which specialize in the treatment of mental health disorders through chemical means. They are all three aware of the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD along with the pros and cons, as with every medicine. I was counseled and I was educated and I have practiced my autonomy as a fundamental right as a patient to make my own healthcare choices.

I came back to womens' mental health to get further support by exploring different means where I can give voice to my injured inner child, because there are many of them, non-verbally rather than verbally. Each trauma brought the death to a self that I had been and I've had to readjust my personality and thinking to adapt. This happened many many times. I can't keep count of it all. I have no idea. But I know they are all in there still because they are yelling to be heard in hopes that I can find some sort of integration of self and I can claim an identity. Right now I have none. I'm just barely getting used to not being ashamed I am a woman. Most of my life I wanted to be a man only so that I wouldn't be treated like a degenerate sexual object that my time in the military made me believe that I am. I understand that you have a change in clinic policy and will not treat any woman veteran who is currently using medical cannabis. Also that you got rid of Jan's iRest classes, the one spot that I was able to get the most therapeutic benefit. Before Jan, I had no awareness of my internal consciousness. I was unable to identify emotions. I was completely shut off from communicating with myself. I felt only pain and chaos. I feel, because this all took place after last years episode with me, that these decisions were made in part because of my case. I am supposed to meet with the team to discuss treatment planning. I respect that Dr. Gunderson, my psychologist who has worked with me since 2014 off and on, is going to be consulted regarding her opinion if I would benefit from art therapy or iRest yoga. I started therapy with her after my breakdown in 2014 while I waited 6 months to be scheduled for one on one at the VA. I am strongly confident that she will say she thinks I would benefit, considering after reading the medical notes Jan has written concerning our sessions she told me "Keep seeing her, she gets you." I requested that Dr. Walker and the "team" also include Dr. Howard in their discussion of my treatment planning. She has also been working with me since 2014 and it is her medical advice that I have come to trust as she is aware of all the side effects and complications of various chemical therapy. She is a psychiatrist with over 25 years of experience and I want her medical expertise considered. I would also like her and nurse Serina, who I've been in contact with since 2012 when she was a suicide prevention nurse at the VA, to be present. She has been there from when I was working. She saw me take a month off of work in order to get care at the VA. I expressed to womens' mental health at that time that I needed to be seen. I was very suicidal, desperate, and trying to take care of mental health so I can return to work refreshed. I was told I still needed to wait and the month came and went and I had to return to work without the treatment I took the time off to receive. Serina is now Dr. Howard's nurse and I frequently write her and have learned to trust her input as well. I do not want to meet in another group meeting unless one of them, or both, are present. I'm fearful I will freeze up and lose my voice again because I disassociate from my internal environment and have a lot of difficulty expressing my pain and my experience the last almost two decades of my life.

Most importantly, I want my informed decision to use medical marijuana as a medicine to cope with PTSD to be respected. I live in California, I have a medical recommendation card, and the state has declared it legal and appropriate. Furthermore, I want my decision to medicate to not be called an "addiction". I hate to sound offensive but despite the VA's efforts to help women veterans, I still believe the mark is missed. I hope my experience helps shed light on the experience of women veterans.

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