Breaking Faith: Woman Struggles After Air Force Rape

In a new study, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that more than one-in-seven female vets who recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan were sexually abused by a fellow soldier. How do VA hospitals treat such cases? In this exclusive report one young veteran talks about how she was abused -- then thrown away by the country she served.

Diane Corey joined the Air Force to serve her country just as her father had. He told her they were the best years of his life.

"Why not join?" she asked herself.  "I'll have the best years of my life."

But the best years turned out to be the worst. According to Air Force medical records, she was sexually assaulted by a fellow serviceman right after basic training.

"He raped me," she said.

He faced court marshal, but got off lightly, in her view. 

"A slap on the wrist, and it was over," she says. "He lost a stripe."

Diane lost much more, according to the medical documents. She began drinking heavily and lost a stripe for drinking underage.
She had nightmares, flashbacks, and felt numb, she says. "I started to throw up my food to numb myself." 

Bingeing on food and throwing it up is a condition known as bulimia. It affects women who've been traumatized, and it became a metaphor for the horror Diane was too ashamed to talk about. 

"I was stuffing down my feelings and throwing them up instead of talking about them," she explains.

Even after her marriage to a fellow serviceman, her drinking and purging intensified. She says, "I just thought that I didn't deserve somebody. I was dirty, disgusting."

A civilian therapist she consulted for marital problems diagnosed her with posttraumatic stress stemming from the assault.

"I hated myself," says Diane. "I hated my body."

Through it all, she received no in-depth medical treatment from the military, partly because, she says, she was too far-gone, too broken, to ask for it.

"You're so intimidated by authority that you never want to say too much to them."

In early 2007 she was honorably discharged. But she didn't want to live. One day she drank so much rum her heart stopped briefly. Afterwards, she says, her husband kicked her out.

"He couldn't watch me kill myself anymore."

Hating herself, drinking, bingeing and purging, she began living on the streets, first in Baltimore, then in LA, and she might have died on the streets except for Nancy and Mike Collins, her parents.

Nancy says, "We've almost lost her at least three times that I know of.  It's just really sad. It's hard even to talk about it."

The Collins said their daughter never displayed any bad habits while growing up.

"She was always a wonderful child," Nancy insists.

The parents say it was only after the sexual assault that the drinking began, then the bulimia, and it was only after the marriage collapsed that they realized how damaged their daughter was.

Mike acknowledges, "Sometimes I don't think she wants to live."

Over the last year and a half, the Collins sought help for their daughter from the VA Hospital in west LA, but they found many treatment programs too narrowly focused to help her.

"The programs that would exist for alcohol are very inadequate for someone who has other issues," says Nancy.

Treatment for post traumatic stress is available at many VA facilities but, the Collins discovered, such programs for female vets alone are few and far between, and often available only from private clinics

"There're only three programs in the United States that really take care of women" says Nancy, "and there's a waiting list for them."

Worst of all, they discovered, there are no VA treatment programs for female eating disorders.

KNBC medical editor, Dr. Bruce Hensel, who has worked at the VA, points out, "The VA is not as focused on women as it is on men.  Eating disorders require specialized, individualized experienced treatment focused on that particular person."
A psychologist with the VA in Loma Linda, Dr. Lois Krawczyk elaborates: "We don't have enough individuals with the condition to have those programs. 

She has found that bulimia is not as common among female veterans as other conditions.

"So we don't have group programs for that," she says, "But we do have individual outpatient therapy for the treatment of eating disorders. Often that service is paid for by the VA."
When we last interviewed Diane in mid-September, she was being treated for substance abuse at a VA facility in Loma Linda and had been sober for two weeks with the help of heavy medication. But she and her parents say she deserves more from the Air Force and the country she served.

"They owe me an alcohol program that I can stay in," says Diane, "and an eating disorder program that I can go to." 
Several weeks after the interview, Diane relapsed, overdosed, and is now hospitalized at a private facility. The VA is picking up the tab, but for the last time. Diane has finally used up all of the financial aid allotted to her by the VA for outside care.

"Sometimes I cry and sometimes when I see her better, I'm okay" says Nancy, her mother. "So it's a struggle."
In a recent letter to her mother, Diane apologized for her relapses and assured her, "I do not want to die."

She's attempted suicide at least four times.

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