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VA Salt Lake City Health Care System

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Men's Military Sexual Trauma Support Group

Clothesline Project shirts show powerful & impactful message from military sexual trauma.

Clothesline Project helps raise awareness of military sexual trauma.

By Rachelle Fernandez
Monday, May 15, 2017

"We are not alone!"

“I knew I had PTSD, but there was something else going on,” said Rick, an Air Force and Army Veteran. “Finally, someone brought up MST [Military Sexual Trauma] and it was like someone stuck a hot poker in my chest--I couldn't breathe.” Before that realization, Rick spent over 40 years avoiding a horrendous act that happened to him during his time in active duty. “I hadn’t stopped self-medicating,” says Rick, “to me I was fine I was doing good in my life, I didn't think I needed to be here [VASLC].”

Things came to a grinding halt when Rick suffered a triggering event at work, which finally forced him to seek out treatment.

MST (Military Sexual Trauma) is any sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during a Veteran’s military service. The VA national screening program reported 1 in a 100 men answered ‘yes’ to MST, and women recorded a shocking 1 in 4. But Dr. Jim Asbrand, the MST Coordinator for the VA Salt lake City Health Care System, and support group therapist says those numbers aren't always accurate. “Most don't report when it happens,” says Dr. Asbrand. “It’s hard to even know what the numbers are.”

Further studies indicate men with MST are not so uncommon. VA data from 2015 show 40% of all Veterans seen at VA facilities who experienced MST were in fact, men.

Independent researchers suggest the numbers for men and women could be in the tens of thousands, a 2015 American Psychological Association study shows reports of sexual assault in the military have risen 88% from 2007-2013. “A lot of vets don’t think they have problems,” says Rick. “All I can say to anyone in active duty right now or any Veteran--if you were attacked by anyone, you have to realize you did not do this. It's not your fault, just come and talk.”

The group meets every Friday from 10:30a.m-12:00p.m in Building 16 (Otter Creek Room). Asbrand encourages VA providers to always ask the question, “It’s OK to ask if someone has experienced MST,” says Asbrand.

For one Veteran who went by ‘Edward’, admitting he was a victim of MST took over four decades. “It took me 46 years to find help,” says Edward. “I didn’t know where to go-- it was just an accident when I got it through VA.”

Rick and Edward hope other men won’t suffer in silence. A reluctance to reach out leads to a lifetime of pain. “We don't have to carry all this shame around,” says Edward, “you don't have to suffer for 46 years alone.”

The VASLC Healthcare System raises awareness all year long but particularly during Sexual Assault Awareness Month through events like the Clothesline Project, and ‘A Night of Healing.’ Dr. Asbrand encourages providers to talk to their patients, “Medical providers need to make the connection of MST and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” says Asbrand, “sometimes MST can exacerbate PTSD.” For more information on the VASLC MST program please contact (801)582-1565 ext. 2719. To learn more about MST go to www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.

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