Video: The new face of military PTSD

By Dawn Fratangelo Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/7/2007 10:57:40 AM ET 2007-05-07T14:57:40

For Kevie Kelly, it started with dreams. For Tina Gerber, it was sleepless nights. Bev Jackson actually considered ending her life. What these women have in common is a deep love for the military and a diagnosis that took them by surprise — post traumatic stress disorder.

Tina Gerber, along with her husband, Jerry, is a longtime member of the Wisconsin National Guard. Last year, she was deployed to Afghanistan, where she says she was raped by another soldier.

"All the stories you hear about women not doing anything about it and crawling into their own little hole and hiding from it and not talking about it —  I always thought, 'Well, that's ridiculous. If it happens to me, I'm gonna be out there," Tina says. "That's not what I did at all. I hid and I didn't talk about it."

Three days later, Tina did talk to a doctor and with help was released from active duty. Last November, she came home to her family.

"When she came home, it was probably two months before she'd even really leave the house," Jerry says. "If she did, she'd end up — she'd have panic attacks."

Tina received an early diagnosis of PTSD and therapy found this — an Internet chat room of women with what's called military sexual trauma.

"I couldn't believe that there was a whole bulletin board out there for this group, just for this," Tina says. "I just never knew there was a way out of this."

Veterans Kevie Kelly and Bev Jackson suffered for many years — only recently learning they had PTSD, which was the result, they say, of being sexually assaulted in the military.

"For the first year and a half they were trying to convince me that I had PTSD and I am, like, 'No,'" Kevie says.

They are among more than 300 who've been treated at the woman's trauma recovery program in Palo Alto, Calif., which is run by the Department of Veteran's Affairs. NBC News was given exclusive access to this residential program.

"They need to understand that we're willing to fight, we're willing to do what we have to do, but just like we're willing to go and protect somebody else's country, we need to be protected," Jackson says.

The Pentagon says it is making strides to prevent sexual assaults. Of those treated for PTSD at this program, 78 percent were admitted with military sexual trauma. Therapists at the facility say applications have increased significantly.

"Both combat trauma and sexual trauma are important deployment mental health issues right now and the VA is absolutely taking sexual trauma as seriously as combat trauma," says Rachel Kimerling, a clinical psychologist with Veteran's Affairs.

Military sexual assaults are up again this year, but the Pentagon says part of it is due to a new reporting system that allows victims to get immediate care without informing a higher officer.

Tina Gerber says the new system that allowed her to get help without pressing charges gave her support she needed. But she has no illusions — her trauma will have lasting effects.

"It is something that will effect how you react to things for the rest of your life," she says.

These military women — the new faces of the "other" PTSD.

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