I got a call one day when I was navigating a housing shortage in the bay area. It was a friend of mine, let’s call him Mike. Mike claimed that he had been sexaually assaulted by a doctor at the VA and I didn’t know how to help him. His story seemed surreal but the VA system is just that like a Dali painting full of torture and melting clocks.
Men don’t report sexual assault almost at all. It’s a black hole in military sexual trauma scholarship but men are raped all the time. We don’t expect that this could happen to service members after they get out but that is exactly what my friend said happened to him at the hands of a doctor. I believed him when he told me but all I could do at the time was put him in contact with an attorney. But I know what it’s like to be traumatized. It stands to reason that such an experience could make one erratic.
Even though I tried to be there for him I was not strong enough. He was irate back then and called a lot of our service member buddies and blamed us, all of us too far away to help him. I contacted another shipmate to reach out to him because I really felt powerless. His account of what happened and his subsequent institutionalization horrified me. After his wife left him the veterans administration became his power of attorney or so it seems.
He claimed that I had let him down – he used some analogy about being a man left behind – a man overboard. I was really struggling myself sparing you the details. But I could identify with him ever since I left the navy. I feel like I was on a simulated ship. Like a fish out of water always flopping around waiting to flop around some more.
With everything we know about vicarious PTSD the VA should be a defunct organization instead of neglect acting as a hazing to retraumitize the vulnerable. Not just him but anyone he was close to. This is more of a confession than a call for action. It’s been some years since this happened. Maybe he’ll read this and forgive me for not getting him the kind of help that he needed.
All the doe eyed neoliberals who think that the VA is the best health care out there don’t see the harm it does to the people it is supposed to serve. When my friend came to me with his trauma the people that would usually care were so enraged by the republican president that it wouldn’t have registered with them. The VA is a chess piece for democrats and republicans to arbitrate power.
The department of veterans affairs was created to give benefits to Confederate, Union, service members and their families after the Civil War. Since it became a monument to the Gilded Age and a warehouse for the detailed data (including DNA) of those who served. The relationship between the medical establishment and war is symbiotic this data is the foundation of modern medicine.
After the invention of helicopters during the Korean War medical evacuations became possible triage was revolutionized. The VA acts as continuing care from the most severe trauma that can be inflicted on humans making the research dollar invaluable. However, the VA system gives training dollar away to colleges that charge for it.
There is a sea of residents making the possibility of my friends sexual assault very possible. They are under very little supervision from attending physicians. The performity and esteem of being a doctor acts as a kind of mob mentality. These attendants will always side with residents because the veteran is the unwashed other.
As veterans we are discouraged to complain about the VA even by other liberal leaning veterans – labeled as spoiled or ungrateful. We talk about Military Sexual Trauma as if a VA hospital is sanctuary – it’s not. In 2019 Andrea Goldstein, a congressional aid and USN LCDR, reported a sexual assault at a VA hospital and VA attempted to discredit her according to the inspector general. According the VA 1 in 4 female veterans experience sexual harassment at the VA. As far as I know no data exists for men.