While serving in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, Ginger MacCutcheon experienced military sexual trauma. She later experienced the negative effects of her MST, including developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
For almost 40 years, MacCutcheon was silent about her experience. But now she shares her story with her fellow Veterans, hoping to encourage those with similar experiences to seek help through VA.
In the years after her attacks, MacCutcheon isolated herself. The stigma of discussing MST in the military made getting help feel impossible. She felt shame and guilt, feared betrayal and judgment and attempted suicide twice.
It was not until 2015 that she learned that support was available. A fellow Veteran had pointed out how on edge she was around other people. “He asked if I was getting help from VA,” MacCutcheon shared. “And I said, ‘I’m not missing any body parts. I can’t go there.’”
Getting her life back with telehealth and mental health support
But she soon found she could go to VA to get help with the effects of her MST. Her initial misunderstanding of how VA could help is partially why MacCutcheon is so active with Veterans now.
“I’m trying to get the word out to people and say, ‘Don’t let the best years of your life pass you by,’” she said.
Since seeking VA care, MacCutcheon has taken part in many programs that have helped her manage the effects of her MST. These programs include music therapy, women’s groups and telehealth. At one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was enrolled in four telehealth programs at a time.
MacCutcheon discovered telehealth when she moved to a new area. She didn’t feel comfortable going out yet so she looked for another option. “I think telehealth has given me the courage to speak to other people. With telehealth, I was able to talk to other people but I was in my home, a comfortable space for me.”
Many VA resources to help Veterans cope with MST
For Veterans who, like MacCutcheon, feel shame or guilt as a result of MST, speaking with a provider or therapist might not be a comfortable first step. VA offers many resources to help Veterans cope with MST. One resource is Beyond MST, a free, secure app with tools that help Veterans who have experienced MST manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Veterans can also ask for a TeleMental Health video visit if they are not ready to speak with a provider in person. “Without VA, I really don’t think I would still be here,” she said.
MacCutcheon urged anyone hesitant to reach out for help to just take the first step. “VA is willing to meet you at the point that you’re at.”
Helping other Veterans find support
MacCutcheon volunteers at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center in the Employee/Patient Experience Service Office as administrative support, and is chairwoman of the Veterans’ Advisory Council. Through her role as chairwoman, she is focused on helping other Veterans and their caregivers understand and access VA services, treatments and benefits. She is also the commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 116 in Brooklyn/Parma, Ohio, and an executive committee member of the DAV Department of Ohio. “I now feel like I have something to offer. I have help to offer people and I feel very strongly that it is my gift,” she added.
If you are experiencing the effects of MST, VA can offer support to suit your schedule and comfort level. To learn more, visit VA’s MST webpage.