Content Warning: This story discusses military sexual trauma (MST), sexual assault and rape. If you are in crisis, Don’t wait. Reach out. Call, text, or chat with the Veterans Crisis Line (dial 988 on your phone and press 1) for free and confidential support.

From the Tea Party to Tom Brady, the only thing Boston loves more than a win is a good comeback story. When Army Veteran Cynthia Perkins moved to Boston in 2018, she set out to join the city’s tradition.

Perkins served in the Army for four years as a telecommunications specialist and administrative specialist, separating in 1994 to raise her young children in Georgia. She was hesitant to explore the VA benefits she had earned, thinking she’d be taking away from other who needed more.

“I had brothers and sisters who served and went through more and had more extreme injuries,” she said.

But Perkins soon began to experience severe back pain that interfered with her ability to work.

“Some days I couldn’t get out of bed or function at all,” she said, describing the catalyst for finally visiting her local VA. “I needed answers.”

Shipping up to Boston

Just when Perkins thought she couldn’t feel worse, she learned that the consequences of chronic pain are not only physical. “I started having flashbacks to a time in the military when I was raped. Those memories began to resurface and get stronger.”

Perkins was initially told that because she never reported the incident of military sexual trauma (MST), she didn’t qualify for VA benefits.

No Veteran will receive this response from VA ever again. All VA medical centers and community-based Vet Centers now provide MST-related services that are 100% free and confidential for Veterans experiencing conditions related to MST. Veterans do not need to have reported the incident previously or qualify for other VA care to receive MST services.

Perkins’ brother, a Marine Corps Veteran, reported hearing great things about the Boston’s Women Veterans Program near his home and urged his sister to look into it. She agreed and shipped up to Boston in search of help.

“It restored my faith in VA.”

Within a few weeks, Perkins had VA’s approval to receive care for her back and MST, but was still in need of a place to live. After a few months of staying in VA transitional housing, VA Boston Health Care System’s HUD-VASH Program helped her move into her own apartment.

“It restored my faith in VA,” she added. “To go to Boston and receive so much care… My dignity was restored.”

Perkins began therapy sessions through VA, learning about the effects of trauma, MST and PTSD. As she worked on turning a new page in her own life, she resolved to help others do the same.

“It’s wonderful to see our Veterans blossom after all they have gone through,” said Natalie Rios, Perkins’ HUD-VASH social worker. “Cynthia exhibits the strength, creativity and resilience we hope to foster in all of the Veterans recovering from homelessness.”

Turning the page

Perkins turned to VA Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services (HVCES) to help her fledgling startup, Lines on Paper, Inc. The company creates customized journals to give people a meaningful space to write about and heal from their own pain. The guidance she received from HVCES helped her business and to translate the lessons she learned about trauma recovery into something that could help others.

“Cynthia has a great vision, and our job is to help her, and all homeless Veterans, make their work dreams come to life,” said Wanda Wong, HVCES coordinator.

Cynthia Perkins reminds us that whether we are on the front lines or filling lines on paper, we are the authors of our own stories, and with a little support, our comeback stories are just a chapter away.

Learn about VA programs

By Shawn Liu

Director of communications for the VHA Homeless Programs Office

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Published on Oct. 7, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.9 min.

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  1. Janice Jenkins October 9, 2022 at 6:02 pm


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