Diane Carlson Evans was thrilled last year to hear of a new support group for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. But when Evans walked into the event at Fort Harrison, she found only men there.

That made her uncomfortable at first, then angry. Evans, who served as a trauma nurse in Vietnam and has PTSD, was hoping to connect with other female veterans, as well as males, in a therapeutic environment. Instead, she learned that female veterans weren’t part of the new program.

It also reminded Evans of 1983, when she finally sought help for PTSD at a veterans center in Minneapolis.

“I asked them how many women from Vietnam they had treated, and he said I was the first,” said Evans, who now lives in Helena. “The first thing I saw, hanging on the wall, was a naked woman wearing only Harley chaps and a helmet. It was a place for the guys, very unwelcoming for women.”

So last August, Evans set out to establish a group specifically for military women, whether in active duty, the National Guard or the Reserve, where they could confide in one another and share their fears, their symptoms, their triumphs and their pain in a safe setting.

She knew the need existed for a women-specific program, since nationwide, 1.8 million women are military veterans, which includes almost 8,000 women in Montana. They make up 14 percent of those in active duty, and 15 percent in the Reserve and National Guard.

As of 2008, more than 195,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, serving as gunners, patrolling streets and driving trucks at front lines that can be as innocuous as the marketplace. But even with those numbers, oftentimes only a handful of females, sometimes only one, are in some platoons.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, one in five military women says she has been sexually assaulted or harassed.

“We know the incidence of PTSD in women is higher than it is in men; not because they’re the weaker sex and can’t deal with war, but because in the military sexual trauma is rampant,” Evans said. “We are constantly watching our back. These days, they have battle buddies, and don’t even go to the latrine alone. They are thrown into an environment that’s very different, an environment with male values and a male way of doing things.

“Then they’re thrown into situations they’re not trained for. They may be a truck driver, and then the truck runs over a land mine and they’re assaulted by the enemy. There’s trauma in witnessing death and dying, being shot at or firing at someone. It comes at them from all directions.”

On Thursday, her dream will come to fruition, when an open house is held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Wingate Inn, 2007 N. Oakes St., for the Military Women to Women Peer Support Group. Beginning Aug. 12, the group will meet every Thursday in Building 4A, a recently remodeled historic home at the Veterans Administration Medical Center campus at Fort Harrison.

Evans and Jonna Brenton, the women veteran program manager for the VA, are quick to note that anonymity is an important element of the group, and that the military will never know who attends, in part due to the ongoing stigma that people seeking help — male or female — are not “tough enough” to be in the military.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of confidentiality and privacy,” Evans said, standing near a fireplace in the elegant, three-story brick duplex that used to house officers and doctors at Fort Harrison. The walls are in need of a few pictures and the furnishings generally consist of a loveseat and a dozen or more soft chairs, but it’s a warm setting where she and Brenton hope women will be able to comfortably talk about their concerns.

“From 3 to 5 p.m. every Thursday this whole house is ours,” Evans adds. “But this is group-run, and if they don’t like coming out to the campus we can go elsewhere. If the hours don’t work we can change that.”

The group is open to military women who may not have a PTSD diagnosis, but who continually relive traumatic events; who feel numb, depressed or constantly keyed up; who have feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair; relationship or drinking problems; or other physical symptoms of PTSD.

“This is not behavioral therapy, but is peer-to-peer counseling,” Brenton said, adding that one of two female therapists will always be available if needed. “We’re also open to National Guard and Reservists, so this isn’t just for veterans. We want to get help for women who are having problems now.”

They don’t know how many people will attend the informal open house this week, or the peer-to-peer sessions.

“But you don’t know what the needs are until you open the door,” Brenton said. “Even if just two come, two will become four and four will become eight. Our vision is this will go statewide, and that with technology, women in Missoula and other communities will be able to tap into this.

“This isn’t a VA group. It’s an opportunity for the Veterans Administration to support a peer group for military women.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com



(7) comments


I applaud her efforts. However, why is it that we must find a way to apply the "gender bender" theme to everything that we do now days?

She became "angry" because there were no women in a PTSD support group? Really?


I do agree with a group for women, women are more comfortable talking to other women then men and vice versa.

Somehow this article seems a little biased to me. For one thing, PTSD being higher in women its not just because of the "military sexual trauma is rampant" (which i would like to see some firm data to support that one) but some of the reasons for PTSD the physical and emotion difference between men and women. Meaning, we're built differently. Regardless of the equality, to this day physical/weight standards are not the same for women in the military as for men. How folks are recruited, to this day the "get a college education" is used as a sales pitch. Although recruits do have to read and understand what they are signing up for fail to realize they're probably going to end up in a war zone REGARDLESS of the job they're going into. So the mind set isn't even toward reality of being in war. Another reason PTSD has gotten higher among women AND men is being rushed through training and thrown into the battle zone. The training itself is not as "hard core" as it was some 20 years ago. Softer, easier and we older veterans see it.

What was said about "battle buddies, and don’t even go to the latrine alone", that's not women specific. Its "supposed" to be 2 person policy FOR EVERYONE, I know it was in conflicts I was in. And what is meant about "male values and male way of doing things"? Don't know about that, I served directly under many women in my time that were either my direct enlisted supervisor/manager or commander. but will tell you we as men; regardless of the equality thing, tend to protect women more readibly then men. It just a basic instinct men have. As far as "Thrown in to situations they are not trained for?" That goes for men as well. I started off in aircraft maintence and practically overnight found myself on a guard post.


Well like usual, Sentinel doesn't know his XXX from whole in the ground. These men and women do suffer from PTSD in great numbers. Sometimes coming forward for medical help and support can be overwhelming and it doesn't make any difference whether you are male or female. That support should be available. What does it hurt to have a female support PTSD group. Sentinel, you are a piece of work I KNOW ! Lets get all the help we can for our brave men and women, they deserve it. We lost a nephew to suicide right after he returned back from Iraq with PTSD and PTSD has affected other members of our family deeply. And yes, male and female have different needs.


Why are you attacking Sentinel? I am looking at his/her post and I'm not seeing what made you so angry? I think what he/she is saying is what is there to get mad about because there weren't females there? PTSD doesnt discriminate against gender, PTSD is PTSD.


SGT762, you are spot on. And Sentinel was correct also, the gender card was thrown out there in the article. For one thing, it was said that Mrs. Evans reflected back to 1983. Well, its not 1983 and things done then are not the same 27 years later. Then she became "angry" when she learned that female veterans weren’t part of the new program. I would have to ask her, why? Because like all new programs that are created, its generally based on a need of somekind. And of course, funding. Generally, anyone with PTSD sees a psychiatrist one on one. Thats EVERYONE. My guess is someone decided to expand that to a support group and that decision was based on how many and who might participate. Don't know how this support group is funded. Now based on the article Mrs. Evans was hoping to connect with other female veterans, as well as males, in a therapeutic environment. Not finding that, instead of finding out the whys/how fors of why the current group is as it is, she knows a need for a women-specific program? Seems to be she's not looking to connect with men and PTSD rather with women. Why else would she be creating a women specific program?

My 2 cents, I think there should be a program specific for men and also specific for women simply because of the differences there are. But I also think there should be a group for both together so that both can understand "to a degree" each others PTSD.

The last statement in the article is interesting. “This isn’t a VA group. It’s an opportunity for the Veterans Administration to support a peer group for military women.” Mrs. Evans, by the VA letting you use the recently remodeled historic home at the Veterans Administration Medical Center campus at Fort Harrison already shows they support a peer group. My guess is, not only do they support it but are also giving you a chance to show an ongoing need that the VA here needs to fund. Best of luck.


Ok, seriously, why do any of you care if they have created a support group for Veterans---FEMALE OR MALE??? If they need help, let them have it! If veterans are willing to come forward and seek help, let them have it! I'm really tired the negativity that is spewed on these blogs...IF YOU DON"T HAVE SOMETHING NICE TO SAY< DON"T SAY IT!!!!!!!!!!!! We should support any type of help we can get for them, female or male. Instead of complaing, you should step up like they have, and if you can't do that, then keep you mouth shut. There, now you can bash me....as i know that you negative commenters have nothing better to do...


SICKOFNAGGERS, we all said its a great idea to have a womens support group. However, it is our opinion the article was written in a biased tone and our opinion is it shouldn't have been.

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