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Connecting with Women Vets

U.S. Air Force Veteran Marshana Harris (Marz)

At just 19 years old, Marshana Harris (Marz)'s military career was cut short when she found herself being a survivor of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

U.S. Air Force Veteran Marshana Harris (Marz), graduated high school in 2004, celebrated her 18th birthday on the 4th of July, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in August 2004. 

Marshana served as a load master for the B-1 bomber plane, primarily responsible for safely guiding crewmates to retrieve and install weapons into the aircraft. However, at just 19 years old her military career was cut short when she found herself being a survivor of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

VA uses the term “military sexual trauma” (MST) to refer to sexual assault or harassment experienced during military service. MST includes any sexual activity that you are involved with against your will. Like other types of trauma, MST can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health, even many years later.

“While I did receive an honorable discharge, I hadn’t realized at the time that it came with some restrictions, to include being disqualified for future enlistment,” shared Marshana. “I had a hard time accepting that my life in a sense had been stolen from me once again, and I turned to alcohol to cope.”

Casual drinking got progressively worse over the years for Marshana. A close friend, and woman in recovery, introduced her to a 12-step program. After meeting with other Veterans in recovery meetings, she mustered up the courage to check out her local VA facility at the time. The VA helped her realize that she was struggling from anxietydepression, substance abuse disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

MST can be a very difficult life experience, but recovery is possible. VA has a range of services available to meet MST survivors where they are at in their recovery. VA provides free treatment for any physical or mental health conditions related to a Veteran’s experiences of MST. No documentation of the MST experience or VA disability compensation rating is required. Some Veterans can receive free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA care.

In 2017, Marshana moved back to her hometown in western Pennsylvania, and started care at the Butler VA Health Care System.

“I got connected here with other strong, inspiring female Veterans who also experienced MST. That women’s group was such a game changer and truly enhanced my recovery.”

Recovery is possible. For more information, Veterans can contact the Butler VA's MST Coordinator Amber Portik at 878.271.6268 or Amber.Portik@va.gov. Veterans can also call VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

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