Susan Avila Smith
Who: Susan is a military sexual trauma survivor which is why she started this advocacy. She has helped nearly 4,000 male and female clients at various stages of recovery from similar incidents such MST to obtain medical benefits, legal and personal counseling and other essential services. She has been serving female and scores of male clients in various stages of recovery from MST for 15 years and knows of its devastating effects up close. Mrs. Smith is the founder and director of VetWow.
What: VetWow is a nonpartisan organization addressing the needs of American service members and veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.
When: VetWow was founded in April 1996 and continues to assist American servicemen and women.
Why: Eleven years personal experience seeking care, support, and benefits within the VA system for PTSD. Susan tries to be the voice that survivors have lost when I speak to the media about MST. “My primary concern for any veteran I work with is that they feel safe.”
How: She addresses the needs of American service members and veterans. Susan has spoken about gender issues and sexuality in the military to many different audiences.
Summary of Organization:Promote safety of American military troops, and Homeland Security troops (Coast Guard) by educating government officials and representatives on dynamics of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and working to change current policies, procedures, and laws regarding MST through the White House, Congressional inquiries, the Pentagon and beyond. Promote prosecution and incarceration and monitoring of active duty sex offenders through victim advocacy to include legal and media representation.
Promote healing of MST victims by guiding them through the arduous process of obtaining military discharges and retirements, Veterans Administration disability compensation, counseling, and medical benefits, and Social Security disability benefits. Draft and develop supporting documentation for benefits claims. Peer counsel clients and their families on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to understand and adapt to negative behaviors created by violence to promote positive support and recovery. Obtain compassionate emergency and routine care for illnesses and symptoms secondary to MST.
Promote stability of MST victims and their immediate families by securing housing, public assistance, clothing, and employment. Escort clients to legal and medical appointments. Handle crisis calls on private hotline to include family break-ups, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, termination of employment, and fiscal emergencies.
Promote eradication of McDowell checklist, the Feres Doctrine and 5 Laws of Immunity which are currently used to protect sex offenders, prosecution and persecution of victims who report MST to include civilian victims of military recruiters.
Promote a system whereby sex offenders’ records follow them into civilian life, decreasing the possibility that sex offenders can participate in such programs as Troops to Teachers or obtain employment in public schools and hospitals.
Promote a military and veteran society where the contributions of women as well as promote a military and veteran society where the contributions of women as well as domestic violence and sexual harassment and abuse are taken seriously.
Promote equity in access to legal entitlement of benefits earned through military service by educating veterans on available services and benefits and guiding them through applications and processes to include appeal.
URL Website: http://www.vetwow.com
History of Advocacy efforts:
NASDVA, August 2009 – Present, shared information with others at the National Association of the Department of Veterans Affairs regarding MST and the myths and problems surrounding it.
Veteran Community Network (VCN), September 2011 – Present, Greater Seattle Area
Thursday, May 19, in 120 Kane. Her talk is titled Conduct Unbecoming: Sexual Assault in the Military — A Veteran and Survivor of Military Sexual Trauma Helps Bring Justice to Other Survivors.
Connection to military: Honorable active service in the US Army, 1991-95. In 1992, Ms. Avila-Smith experienced sexual assault by her medical team after sinus surgery at Darnell Hospital Fort Hood, Texas. Later in her tour of duty she was subjected by her violent ex-husband to repeated physical and sexual assaults, resulting in the murder of her unborn child and more than two years of stalking. This occurred with her Command’s knowledge. Her command protected her ex-husband at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii by telling civilian police he was no longer stationed there. Felony kidnapping and assault charges failed in court, leading to his conviction for misdemeanor charges that were not enforced by the judge.
5.Women Organizing Women. http://www.vetwow.com/aboutus.htm