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Different faces, but all suffering intimate partner violence

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A preacher’s wife. A young mother. A soldier. These brave individuals joined a survivors’ panel to share their experiences and recovery during a Domestic Violence Awareness and Intimate Partner Violence Awareness event at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO) in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

“There were times I just wanted to give up and didn't care anymore because I was so ashamed. I had guilt and felt so broken and betrayed by ones I loved,” said Tiffany, who was a victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and intimate partner violence while serving in the military. “But I learned from my VA counselors not to judge myself by what someone else did to me. Trauma may happen to you, but it can never define you.”


According to recent studies, one in three women and one in four men in the general population report experiencing intimate partner violence. In addition, one in five women who experience intimate partner violence threaten, attempt, or die by suicide. Related studies sadly suggest Veterans of both sexes are up to twice as likely as non-Veterans to report experiencing intimate partner violence during their lifetimes.  


These distressing facts are why the VHSO and VA’s Suicide Prevention Office recently collaborated with several community partners on an initiative to educate and support both the survivors and perpetrators of this type of trauma.


“This program provides education to our Veterans and their families in breaking down barriers which enable our Veterans to focus on their overall healthcare goals,” said Andrea Predl, LCSW, VHSO Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program Coordinator (IPVAP-C). “Healthy relationships are our number one protective factor in our lives.”


During Domestic Violence Awareness and Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month, VHSO held resource fairs, a White Ribbon commitment event, and a summit in Fort Smith to bring awareness, education, and resources to Veterans, family members, and friends. During the summit, VHSO mental health experts, community partners, and survivors discussed warning signs, how to get help, available resources, and recovery.


While intimate partner violence does not always lead to a mental health or substance use, those who experience it and other traumatic events are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress; misuse substances; and have thoughts of suicide.


A military combat engineer for fourteen years, Tiffany contacted VA for health care and found the support, tools, and specialty care she needed.


“VA care has drastically changed my life for the better. With programs like this and people on the other side helping you, I felt there was hope for me,” said Tiffany. “For my brothers and sisters-in-arms, I encourage you to be open-minded and want to change and heal. I am grateful and blessed because of VA. I am a survivor.”


If you are dealing with MST or intimate partner violence, talk to a VA social worker or health care provider or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

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