Military Sexual Trauma: Triumph in Tragedy

The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast is publishing a special six-part series, Military Sexual Trauma: Triumph in Tragedy, starting Sept. 5.

National Guard veteran and American Legion member Ashley Gorbulja, an original Tango Alpha Lima co-host, returns for this special series that strives to raise awareness about MST, share stories of overcoming the trauma and pinpoint solutions for those seeking help.

(Please note that this series might be triggering for some who have experienced MST or other forms of abuse. The Veterans Crisis Line is available for all veterans 24/7, whether they are enrolled in VA or not. Dial 988 then press 1 or text 838255 to talk confidentially with a trained counselor.)

“As The American Legion shines a light on veteran suicide,” says Gorbulja, referring to the Be the One initiative, “we would be remiss if we did not discuss Military Sexual Trauma, which we know is a pervasive problem with lasting affects for survivors in the community.”

According to VA surveys, one in three women and one in 50 men say they have experienced MST. However, the rate is likely much higher, given other surveys that are conducted anonymously.

The first three episodes will be released Sept. 5-7, and the final three will be published Sept. 12-14. The Tango Alpha Lima podcast will return to its regular schedule on Sept. 19.

The first three episodes at a glance:

Part 1: An overview covers the issue, examines ongoing efforts and offers resources.  

Special guests: Dr. Amy Street, VA’s national director for Military Sexual Trauma; and Dr. Tara Galovski, director of the Women's Health Sciences Division at VA’s National Center for PTSD.

Finding inspiration: “It feels so important to serve veterans who have had that experience, in some small way try to right that wrong,” Street says. “Sadly, this is an experience that can happen to anyone.”

Starting the healing: Gorbulja knows that all too well. She recalls telling a counselor about her MST experience eight years after it happened. “It was one of the hardest and most relieving days of my life,” she says. “I will never forget the compassion that was shown to me in those times.”

Part 2: Survivors discuss ways to prevent MST by transforming the culture.

Special guests: Both guests are survivors of military sexual assault. Andrea Goldstein, a Navy reserve officer and member of American Legion Post 84 in Hudson, N.Y. As the principal adviser to the Secretary of the Navy on integrated prevention efforts, she leads the Navy’s sexual assault, sexual harassment, and suicide prevention and response efforts. Dr. Athena Ives, a Marine Corps sexual assault prevention specialist and forensic criminologist, did her doctoral dissertation on how military culture affects MST.

Changing the culture: Goldstein has implemented more than 200 recommendations to decrease the number of MST cases, sexual assaults and other violent acts. “What we do is cultural change,” she says. “There are some things we can do to improve victim care. But prevention is about the culture.”

Planting seeds of change: Ives focuses on preventative efforts. “Prevention can be very confusing, but it can also be very simple,” she says. “It can mean showing a video of a woman doing something most wouldn’t think she could do. Or showing a man raising a child by himself. It’s countering the narrative. It’s presenting ideas, people or stories that are going to start planting those seeds of change into those young minds which will then grow into leaders.”

Part 3: Male victims share their experiences, the retribution that followed and how they found hope.

Special guests: Army veteran Rashan Legard, who served during the Global War on Terrorism, shares his experience through storytelling and poetry to empower others. Ross Whitmore is a former Air Force officer and clinical social worker. Whitmore, the first openly gay Air Force officer, was assaulted by a superior officer at a party who was never charged.

Seeking help: Both men say they were stonewalled when they tried to report the assaults. “It wasn’t the sexual assault that took my life, it was the after,” Legard explains. Whitmore says he was eventually forced to retire. “My life fell apart. I ended up in an in-patient psych unit for a week. I’ve slowly pieced my life back together. For a while I was not functioning at all.”

Speaking out: Both men encouraged those who experienced MST to report it, even though there will be challenges. “It’s imperative for your wellbeing and your peace of mind, that your story is told,” Whitmore advises, adding that there are support organizations inside and outside DoD that can also help. “They can help you through this. You will need the support of close friends and these groups. There is hope.”