Traumatized Female Vets Face Uphill Battle

"A male goes to fill out a claim to get treatment and he has 23 to 28 pages to fill out. For women there are additional steps, ridiculous red tape for someone who is having severe symptoms focusing."

"Even sitting down in the clinic for awhile is traumatic," she said. "Women have to identify a particular moment or instance that triggers that type of emotions."

For the last two years, Congress has been pushing the VA to respond to the special needs of women.

At least three bills call for larger studies on women who've served in Afghanistan and Iraq to find out how war affects their physical, mental and reproductive health, including one by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington.

Combat-related stress is only part of the problem for women. In 2008, the VA reported that 1 in 5 women screened were found to have military sexual trauma and 60 percent of them develop post-traumatic stress.

Those who experience sexual abuse PTSD get a "double whammy," according to Christopher, who testified before Congress last year.

She was assaulted in language school during Navy training after signing up in 2000, but her assailant was found not guilty.

"I was raped in the barracks room," said Christopher. "My rapist raped several other women -- that's why I came forward. During the whole investigation and afterward, I had to live and work with him and they kept me in the same barracks room where it happened. Then he began to stalk me."

"I kept fighting it up the chain of command and it's my opinion they tried to make an example of me," said Christopher, now 28. "They thought it was a game -- that I was just making it up."

Christopher told Congress the male-dominated culture in VA facilities makes it doubly hard for women who have been traumatized to feel comfortable seeking treatment.

In most clinics, female veterans must share facilities with men -- even those who have experienced sexual trauma.

When Christopher first went to the VA, she brought along note cards with questions because she was so nervous about interacting with male doctors.

"I'd have to walk through the halls with all men and get hassled," she said.

Christopher said the VA has "come a long way," since she was honorably discharged in 2002, but just a handful of mental health clinics serve only women.

Today, she is doing well with a female therapist and credits the help she eventually found within the VA. "I've had good and bad experiences," she said.

Soldier to Wife Transition Hard

Kayla Williams, who experienced "acute stress reaction" after serving with the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, traces back her anxiety to watching a man bleed to death while serving as an Arabic translator during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Williams, now 33, chronicled her five years of service in the book, "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army."

Working alongside infantrymen on combat patrols, Williams was part of a quick-reaction force that resulted in the death of one and 10 injured.

"I watched someone bleed to death and it was probably the most intense and difficult day for me," she said.

"For several months after the experience and again when I came home I had intrusive image of that day," said Williams. "I had trouble sleeping and lost my temper easily and was startled by loud noises."

Those symptoms eventually faded, but coping with the transition from soldier to civilian took a toll.

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