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CONFERENCE REPORT: Session addresses trials for women in military

April 5, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Presenting a workshop on women in the military at this week’s Freedom & Recovery conference in San Diego, the CEO and medical director of the Timberline Knolls women’s treatment program reminded attendees that they have a prime opportunity to build working relationships with the military.

“There are military people out there who do not know that there are treatment centers that specialize in eating disorders and that take Tricare,” said Kim Dennis, MD, CEO and medical director of the Illinois-based program. Dennis spoke of the “trifecta” of problems (eating disorders, substance abuse and trauma) seen in so many female patients, punctuating her remarks with data from military surveys that illustrate the magnitude of the crisis of sexual trauma in the ranks.

As an example of the latter, the number of reported sexual assaults in the military in 2011 reached a level that represented only about 14% of the number calculated from an anonymous survey. Also, a federally sponsored outpatient study reported that 23% of women in the military reported being the victim of a sexual assault while serving.

Regarding the trifecta of problems, Dennis said she has never worked with a female client who does not prove to have a trauma history when she already has been diagnosed with both an eating disorder and a substance abuse problem. The trauma history may be the most difficult to uncover, however.

“Trauma screenings need to be done in a detailed but gentle way,” she said. “These individuals are known for talking in vagueness.”

Dennis said women in today’s military face an environment in which a struggle between a traditional warrior mentality and a more egalitarian culture continues to play out. “There is a contrast between the old thinking and the new thinking,” she said, over issues such as the role for women on combat lines.

Dennis’s session also featured a moving talk by Theresa Hornick, a former Marine Corps officer who has recently gone public with her having battled an eating disorder while serving. She said two of her bridesmaids at her upcoming wedding have recently started talking publicly about victimization they experienced while in the military.

Hornick said that in her present work in the physical therapy field, she sees from another perspective the tendency to overmedicate in the ranks of the military. “The guys say, ‘I can’t survive without my OxyContin,’” she said. “I’m trying to get them into movement.”

 

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