Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Bay Pines VA provides recovery services all year. Still, April is a significant time to reach out to a particular Veteran population: those who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST).
MST survivors can have unique needs for support and healing. Many survivors do not want to tell others about their MST experience. Some worry that others will judge or not believe them. Others cannot imagine how treatment could genuinely help with their recovery, so they suffer alone.
To raise awareness about these critical issues and to encourage Veteran MST survivors to seek needed support, Bay Pines VA recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) each April.
It can be healing for MST survivors to learn someone can understand they experienced something challenging, and takes the potential impacts of their sexual assault and harassment seriously.
Learning that others, including Bay Pines VA providers, believe in their strength, resilience, and ability to recover from the impact of MST is essential. This is why VA's message this year for SAAM offers comfort and inspiration, speaking directly to MST survivors: "We believe you — and we believe in you."
Bay Pines VA MST-related services for Veterans are provided free of charge. No documentation of the MST experience is required, and MST experiences do not need to be reported at the time of the incident for a Veteran to receive care. Nor are Veterans required to have sought care within a specific time frame or applied for a service-connected disability for an MST-related condition. There is also no time limit on receiving MST care.
Veterans interested in receiving care for MST should speak with their primary care manager or mental health provider. They can also reach out to Bay Pines VA MST Coordinator Lisa Shoemaker for assistance at (727) 398-6661, Ext. 17170.
The Clothesline Project.
Each April, in conjunction with SAAM, the Bay Pines VA MST program participates in the Clothesline Project. This project aims to increase awareness of the impact of violence and abuse from sexual assault.
A visual display of shirts with graphic messages and illustrations sharing personal messages of anguish, hope, or healing, this project, for many survivors, offers an essential step on the healing journey. It honors a survivor's strength to continue, allows them to break the silence of their MST courageously, and celebrates recovery.
Our Clothesline Project is virtual this year. Veterans who receive treatment at Bay Pines VA for their MST experience created the shirts 'hanging' on our clothesline. You can see a new shirt each day on both our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Additionally, we encourage everyone to show their support for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse by wearing teal — the color of sexual violence prevention — on April 22, 2021. By wearing teal, you show that you support MST survivors and are a safe person to talk to if survivors need to reach out.
You can help us tell them.
All of us have a role in making sure every Veteran knows about MST and VA's free services for coping with related mental and physical health difficulties. Thank you for helping us deliver this important message in April. Please share it widely. Together we can increase awareness about military sexual trauma and connect MST survivors with services and treatment to help them heal - no matter where they are in their recovery process.
Watch our social media pages for our SAAM Virtual Clothesline all month long!
With best regards, Lisa Shoemaker, LCSW, Bay Pines VA MST Coordinator.