More women are part of the U.S. military - and seeing combat than ever before.
Some return from Iraq and Afghanistan with the same psychological problems their male counterparts have faced for years: post traumatic stress disorder.
Fortunately, the Tri-State is one of the few regions in the nation with a PTSD clinic just for women.
Local 12's Jeff Hirsh has prepared a special report on the clinic for Newsmakers.
From the horrors of war ... can come wounds of the body:
"I got hit by a vehicle borne IED. They came on our base and it blew up."
And wounds of the mind:
"I carried a rifle with me for a year. I saw a lot. And now I can't go to target. Who is this person?"
And who is this ... a different female veteran ... not traumatized by combat ... but by another form of brutal violence ... rape ... raped by her Army drill sergeant. More than 20 years later ... the panic remains:
"When it first starts it feels almost like you're having a heart attack. Your heart starts beating really fast, pain starts shooting down your left arm and as it progresses I will literally stop breathing and pass out."
Now ... these two veterans sit side by side ... getting help.
"Do you see how you are giving away power and control in your life right now?"
Danielle, Michelle, and six other women are at the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic ... at the Veterans Administration Facility in Fort Thomas.
"How do we feel when we say I'm never safe, the world is never safe, men are never safe, any of these beliefs? Angry, frustrated, fearful, irritated, scared."
Clinic director, Dr. Kate Chard, leads the women through seven weeks of self-discovery:
"PTSD is a psychological disorder and it can happen to anyone who goes through a traumatic event."
The term post traumatic stress disorder dates to the Vietnam Wwar and the problems faced by returning Vetnam veterans. But it was not until after the Vietnam war that PTSD was recognized as a legitimate medical condition. But the symptoms have been around forever, referred to as shell shock or combat fatigue."
"You're going to have people having trouble with nightmares."
"There were certain nights when I would wake up from nightmares crawled up behind the couch crying and that was where my husband would find me. He'd ask what was wrong and i'd say I don't know, I was just scared."
"Problems with flashbacks during the day of the trauma."
"The dumpster in the alley being dropped,that sound got me. The Fourth of July making me just sweat down my face."
"Problems with anger and irritability, and problems with avoidance of people, places, and things that remind them of the trauma."
In-patient clinics to deal with those PTSD problems are not new ... for men. but residential programs are new for women. Only three such clinics in the country ... though more are coming ...because more are needed. one in seven military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan is a woman:
Male or female ... the V.A. says more than 15 per cent of returning vets will suffer from PTSD... vets like Danielle.
"Did you have to hit rock bottom before coming to this clinic? Yes, absolutely, it was the hardest thing I've ever done asking for help."
In fact, it can take a year or two to reach that conclusion. For Michelle Covert, it took a lot longer. .like many of the women at the clinic, Michelle is a victim of military sexual trauma ... rape or abuse in a male-dominated heirarchy where the culture is sometimes shut up and don't tell ... although eventually, someone may figure it out:
"Actually I had a Vietnam veteran walk up to me and say do you know you have PTSD, I've been watching you. My first reaction was, ffft, and I got all upset."
For Michelle ... checking in to a seven week in-patient program was, like for Danielle ... a last chance for a normal life:
"The biggest reason why I waited until now was that whole fear,there were so many mixed emotions, what happens if I go in this and come back the same person. What are people going to think about me going into the nut house, because that's what people think. That's how I saw it, it was like if I go into this i'm admitting defeat, I can't handle this on my own."
Actually, admitting you can't handle it on your own is not defeat ... it's the first step to victory.
Through group and individual therapy ... the clinic helps PTSD sufferers understand what is controlling them:
"Have they been blaming themselves, have they been erroneously feeling guilty or blaming someone else for it, and is it time to let those thoughts go and move forward."
By reinforcing which fears are legitimate ... and which fears are irrational ... patients learn how to take a deep breath ... buy time to sort things out ... stay calm, stay normal:
"How do you feel? Relieved, confident, better."
"I think the biggest thing is feeling emotions that you've never allowed your emotions, and challenging your thoughts."
"So instead of saying I'm never safe, the world is never safe, what could you say instead?"
"Sometimes I am safe."
There is, of course, no guarantee. but on graduation day, with diplomas, and gifts... there is confidence ... confidence that when these women leave the comfort and safety of their ready-made support group ... they'll be free. The butterflies on the board are no coincidence. They symbolize breaking out of the box ... going out on your own:
"I think the most important thing for people to hear is that PTSD is treatable."
"So thank you everybody. I didn't expect to walk out of here with this many friends."
"This has been fantastic. I really appreciate everybody's patience and compassion. I'll remember, I'll take something special away about each and every one of you. I really value you."
And incredibly ... or perhaps .. .not incredibly at all ... when you ask Michelle and Danielle to sum up how they're different now ... how, in one word, they see their futures ... well ...we asked them separately ... neither heard the other:
"Hopeful. If I had to put one word to it it would be hopeful. I didn't have any hope for the future and myself. Now I am so hopeful and I have goals and dreams that I didn't have when I first came in here."
"Iis there one word that now says how you're going to leave this building emotionally? Emotionally? Hopeful. I'm hopeful. Same thing she said. Is it, good for Michelle, I'm glad."
So these butterflies are taking flight ... but more are about to land:
"When is the next group? Monday, so, three days."
I am joined now by Doctor Kate Chard the director of the PTSD clinic.
If you are a veteran - male or female - with symptoms of PTSDor know someone who is - you can call the VA at 513-861-3100.
The extension for residential clinics is 6741.