The War Within: Eyewitness News investigates PTSD, Part III

The War Within: Eyewitness News investigates PTSD, Part III
* Editor's Note: This is an installment in an Eyewitness News special report on post–traumatic stress disorder. For months, Eyewitness News has been documenting personal accounts of the devastating disorder. Many military veterans have never spoken publicly about their agonizing problems.

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It's being called a major health crisis.

According to a study by the Rand Corp., a stunning 1-in-5 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with post–traumatic stress disorder. That group includes a growing number of women veterans and their battle with the mental illness.

As the war in Iraq unfolded five years ago, 37-year-old June Moss was in the middle of it all.

"When we first got back, weeks at a time, I might have slept three days total out of two weeks and that's when I knew something was wrong," Moss said.

The retired staff sergeant was diagnosed with PTSD. The Army mechanic's eight month tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq proved devastating to the mental state of the once bubbly mother of two.

"How difficult is it to talk about what you've seen over there?" we asked. "Before I was thinking to hold back because I was told growing up, you were told whatever goes on you were supposed to keep it to yourself. But I know now, talking about it is the best way to get over it," Moss said.

Moss witnessed the horrors of war.

"We were able to see a lot of the destruction, a lot of decapitations and a lot the death, so it was little bit different. I didn't really expect that. It was kind of like the movies, but actually live," she said.

Haunted by the memories, her marriage ended in divorce. She desperately sought out counseling, but as a result became estranged from her father.

"My father didn't agree. He understood and he knew what I was going through. And he chose to turn his back on me. He's not there for us," a teary-eyed Moss confessed.

About 177,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001. According to a study supported by the Veterans Health Administration, among women younger than 45, nearly one in five reported a history of PTSD. And researchers say women are twice as likely to have it than men.

"Some of the vets I see, say war wasn't hard, coming back from war and transitioning back to this other person I was and this other role in life, now that's hard.," says clinical psychologist Rachel Kimerling.

Kimerling is a nationally renown expert on PTSD. She is headquartered at the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park in Northern California. She co-authored a book called "Gender and PTSD," focusing in part on sexual trauma experienced by women at the hands of fellow "brothers in arms."

"Twenty percent of women seeking health care report some experience of military sexual trauma. This really goes from rape to sexual assault to types of severe and threatening harassment," says Kimerling."

"At one point in the evening, he came up from behind me and exposed himself to me, tapped me on the shoulder to turn around and look," says Bakersfield Air Force veteran Jeannine Waits.

At just 18 years old, the North High School grad was an Air Force life support technician in Washington state.

"How difficult is it to talk about this?" we asked. "Extremely difficult. It is difficult to admit you're less than something, it's very hard," Waits said taking a deep breath immediately after answering the question.

Her two years in the military became a nightmare after a fellow airman, for reasons she still doesn't know, suddenly began harassing her in sexually explicit ways.

"He said he was going to bend me over the table and take me from behind and things like that.," she candidly said.

After sternly telling the airman to stop, it still continued. Finally, one night, the airman surprisingly showed up at her home to apologize. When a severe storm hit, she reluctantly allowed him to stay the night in a separate room.

"Then in the night while we were asleep and the dogs were in there and the door locked, I woke up and he was standing above me undressed and fondling himself. And I didn't care about his safety at that point. I told him to get out immediately or I would call the cops and he left.," Waits said.

She filed a complaint, to no avail. She begged her First Sergeant to be moved.

"And his exact words were I'm not going to put my problem child off onto somebody else. "At that point I had had enough. I couldn't deal with it. I was 18 and I didn't have skills to deal with this kind of pressure. And uh, I wanted to kill myself," Waits hesitantly said.

But, but a sergeant who did support her talked her out of it. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with PTSD. Today, she's thirty, married and a mother of two and has dedicated her life to helping struggling vets. Despite the help, she still has panic attacks and intense headaches.

"If that person who confronted you and exposed himself was watching today, what would you tell him?" we asked. "I would want him to know that what he did wasn't a game. It wasn't funny and it's something I have to deal with often and I will have to deal with the rest of my life," said Waits.

Despite her ordeal, Jeannine says she also has forgiven the airman as part of her recovery. She says it takes too much energy to be angry.