MST: Triumph in Tragedy, the second half of a special podcast series

MST: Triumph in Tragedy, the second half of a special podcast series

The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast concludes its special six-part series, Military Sexual Trauma: Triumph in Tragedy, this week.

National Guard veteran and American Legion member Ashley Gorbulja hosts this 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.)

The first three episodes were 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.

Here is each episode of the MST series at a glance:

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

Special guests are 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.

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

Special 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.

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

Special guests are Rashan Legard, an Army Global War on Terrorism veteran, who  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.

Part 4: Members of the LGBQT+ community discuss the prevalence of military sexual trauma.

Special guests: Navy veteran Lindsay Church, the founder and executive director of Minority Veterans of America; and Army veteran Rebekka Eshler, the president of Transgender American Veterans Association.

Determining who’s at risk: Church came out in 2003 and served from 2008 until her medical retirement in 2012. “I went from as out as you can be to as closeted as you can be,” said Church, who went from being a drag king to serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Church pointed out two groups that are more likely to face MST: being a sexual minority and those with less common gender identities. “Sexual assault is not about sex, it is about power.”

Finding a safe space: Members of the LGBQT+ community often struggle to find assistance to cope with MST. Eshler recommended that health-care providers train staff on knowing how to properly communicate with LGBQT+ people with their preferred name and pronouns. “That’s really the first step is making us feel safe in that space,” she said, adding that there also is a stigma associated with being open about MST experiences. “We have to make it more socially acceptable to talk about this topic.” Church, who lives in Washington state, is working with the VA there to conduct training sessions in an effort to reduce the number of MST victims who are lost to suicide. “Please start seeking these types of training out because they do impact things.”

Part 5: How the Department of Defense is working to address MST.

Special guests: Dr. Nathan W. Galbreath, who retired from the Air Force and is now the acting director for the Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO); and Dr. Andra Tharp, the senior prevention adviser for SAPRO. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. Their office focuses on providing assistance and reducing assaults.

Taking action: A fundamental change took place when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took office a few years ago. Austin inquired about what was being done at the time to prevent MST. “We need to do more,” Galbreath said, quoting Austin. “We need to take some significant steps forward.” Those include launching an Independent Review Commission, which has made more than 80 recommendations thus far. Among them: No more part-time workers assigned to MST victims.

Focusing on prevention: Tharp said the commission has been guiding her office’s work. “We are in the process of establishing a prevention work force,” she said, noting that leadership has also been engaged. “As you can imagine, an unhealthy climate is associated with multiple harmful behaviors,” she said, emphasizing that’s an area they are working to improve. “It is one of our key targets in our prevention efforts to make sure that sexual assault and harassment do not occur.”

Part 6: An accredited American Legion service officer and VA MST coordinator discuss options available to those who are seeking assistance.

Special guests: Lisa Shoemaker is a military sexual trauma coordinator with the Bay Pines (Fla.) VA Health Care System. She aims to “demystify” how veterans who have experienced MST can get the assistance they need including mental health support and substance abuse. Susan Irons is an American Legion accredited veterans service officer in Lincoln County, South Dakota. Her role often starts with getting the veteran to open up about MST, then routing them to a VA coordinator, explaining the benefits and introducing them to other benefits.

Filing claims: As a service officer, Irons specializes in filing claims for veterans. She emphasized that veterans need to be able to show the effect of the MST in order to pursue a benefit claim. “It’s important to show that you have a disability and a diagnosis,” she explained, adding if there is no diagnosis, she asks about how the MST has impacted the veteran’s life. Once she unpacks those details, she proceeds with a claims form to start the process with VA.

Taking the first step: “Sometimes veterans don’t even recognize the changes that took place and that's where treatment can come in,” Shoemaker said. “When someone starts the claims process, I really want that veteran to get engaged in treatment first.”

Tango Alpha Lima subscribers will receive these episodes in their regular feed. Or you can find them at, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and other major podcast players.