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MELBOURNE, FLA. — It took time, but Mariette Kalinowski is now more open to identifying herself as a veteran than when she first returned from war.
After two deployments in Iraq with the Marine Corps’ 2nd Military Police Battalion, she returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder. At first, she suffered in silence.
Therapy and participating as one of the subjects of “Service: When Women Come Marching Home,” a documentary film about women transitioning from active duty to civilian life, helped Kalinowski.
After a screening of the film and a question-and-answer session last week at Eastern Florida State College, other women in the audience spoke up about sexual assault, PTSD and other difficulties.
“For many years following my discharge, I was experiencing pretty classical symptoms of (PTSD),” said Kalinowski, a student at Hunter College in New York. “I was isolating myself. I was bottling everything up. I was self-medicating.”
Karen Martin, a senior national service officer with Disabled American Veterans at the Veterans Affairs office in St. Petersburg, Fla., hears the stories of difficulties with PTSD and sexual assaults.
“Often, they find it difficult to prove, and that can be a deterrent to coming forward and asking for help,” Martin said. “I’m completely humbled at some of the experiences our women veterans have been through.”
But Marcia Rock, co-producer and director of the film, said changes are beginning to occur as women speak up more about the issues they face, which are often different from what men experience.
“I learned that women are more prone to PTSD than men,” she said. “But they heal faster. I think it’s because they talk easier about the issues.”
More women are serving in the military than ever before and more roles that were traditionally held only by men are now open to women. Almost 15 percent of active duty military members are women. They make up more than 15 percent of the reserve members. Women are in most career fields or duty in the military.
In the film, some women spoke about their difficulties with sexual trauma. One spoke of losing both legs in an explosion in which she was the only survivor.
Many expected to come home to a good job and a home and not depression, anxiety and PTSD.
The women in the film and in the audience said that when they seek help from the VA they want private, dignified access with a separate waiting room from men and more female health care providers.
“They got a chance to tell their stories, and it changed most of them,” Rock said. “And, we hope that their example will help other veterans tell their stories to each other, to therapists, to caregivers and move on.”
Regardless of the bad experiences, most of the women said they would serve again and recommend it for other young women. They would advise others of what they could encounter and to be aware that sexual assault could be a danger in some units.
Asked if she would serve again in the military if she could, Kalinowski responded, “Yes, in a heartbeat.”
“I don’t regret getting out, but I would do everything the same exact way,” she said.