Women Veterans' services topic of meeting

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By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

Janis Nark, Lt.Col, USAR (Ret), keynote speaker before the Michigan Women's Commission meeting which was focusing on women veterans, stressed the need for services to veterans suffering from both the physical and psychological affects of war, in particular, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Describing her own long and difficult journey to finding the help she needed, she said, 'in my junior year in college, the military recruiters showed up, in full dress uniform." She listened, was interested in the military but concerned about the war (Vietnam). The recruiters' answer to her question was 'don't worry about that. It's strictly voluntary.' She signed up, completed the army student nurse program and went to basic training.

Six months later she was in Vietnam.

"I remember the heat and the smells. We worked six days a week, twelve hours a day. I cared for the sick, the wounded and those who would die. I learned a lot in a short period of time. Day by day we struggled to deal with the tedium and the trauma. We sandbagged our hearts and minds to deal with it later."

After a year, she was on the 'freedom bird' heading toward home.

"In one plane ride, I went from war to peace and in one year I had gone from childhood to a rather full adulthood."

When Narc came home, there was no one to talk to. And this was particularly true of the women veterans. So she took the pain and the anger and did what all the Vietnam veterans did.

"We stuffed it. We stuffed it so deep in our psyches that we believed it would never hurt us again. It doesn't work that way."

She joined the reserves and when the Iraq conflict started she found herself part of it and she felt a black cloud forming over her. She rationalized that she was depressed because she was going to war. Later she realized that she was suffering from the "stuff I had stuffed from Vietnam," but at the time "I thought I was going insane."

When she came home, the memories began to return. In 1996, a team of doctors and psychologists from Harvard who were studying female combat nurses approached her. She volunteered. As a result of their study, she was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. She still did not seek help.

Time passed and in 2004 she was living in Aspen, Colorado, where she a met a fellow veteran who was suffering from PTSD. After a breakdown, he took her to the Veteran's Administration where she was found to be 100% disabled.

Narc is now on medication, which "helps my nightmares. People suffering PTSD live a life of triggers and controls," she said. "We learn to recognize the triggers."

"I am here to encourage you to do more," she concluded, "to do everything you can to identify these women veterans, to bring them in" and help them. "There are ways to get money--go find out what it is--don't be afraid to ask for what you want. It is critical. Especially with all the women now coming home. They need your help."

She gave each member of the audience, composed of representatives of local and state agencies and educational institutions that assist veterans, a copy of "What it is like to go to war" by Karl Marlantes, a book describing combat, what it feels like, the consequences of it and what society must do to prepare our soldiers for war.

Lieutenant Colonel Nark is a Michigan native and Army veteran who has served on active duty in Europe and Vietnam. After Vietnam, she transferred from active duty to the Army Reserves where she served for 26 years, including active duty during Desert Storm. She is recognized as an expert in Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare and has graduated from the Armed Forces Command and General Staff College.

Editor's Note: The Veteran's Court at Ingham County 54B District Court, providing services to veterans in the state who find themselves in the criminal justice system, has received a grant from the Ingham County Bar Foundation. The next Veteran's Court graduation is Feb. 7th.

Published: Mon, Feb 6, 2012

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