Photo by Holly Mindrup
Specialist Terry K. scoots around a throng of patients, visitors, and staff in the wide hallways of the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto, California, about thirty miles south of San Francisco. She trades quips with patients as she maneuvers expertly among the wheelchairs and gurneys on her way to her job in the rehabilitation unit. Slim and healthy, shoulder-length blonde hair shining, she is vibrant and confident in her role as a healer for her comrades returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a real surprise when she says proudly, “I’ve been sober five years now.”
Terry returned home from her tour of duty to the city of Stockton, in California’s Central Valley. Like many other returning vets, her severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) went undiagnosed and untreated. She soon became homeless, addicted to drugs for more years than she cares to detail, and unable to find help. She felt alone and abandoned by the military and the people she had pledged to serve.
“It’s been a very long road,” Terry admits, her blue eyes filling with tears as she tells her story. “I was nineteen years old and a specialist in Wiesbaden, Germany. On my way to my first post, a civilian raped me. When I got to my post, I told my commander about it. He said he was sorry, but did nothing. That was it.” She spent the next three years singled out as a young and vulnerable woman without protection from her superiors. Her fellow soldiers took advantage of the situation, as they knew no one was going to discipline them. Terry never knew when she might be attacked or harassed. With only three other women in her unit to talk to, there was no help or support for her at the time.