Below is the transcript of VFP Board member, Jessie Medvan's speech on International Women's Day, 2017.
My name is Jessie Medvan, I'm the president of Veterans for Peace chapter 47 of Western Pa. I served in the National Guard for 6 years and from 2004 to 2005 was stationed in Taji, Iraq. I want to tell you about what life is like for female veterans and what I feel is the ultimate cause of our suffering. I begin with a story of horrible injustice.
In 2005 Pvt. Lavena Johnson had been in Balad, Iraq for 2 months. Her dead body was found in a military contractor, KBR, tent. The Army ruled her death a suicide but when her parents looked at the autopsy report and pictures of her body they found that this 5 foot, 100 pound woman could not have committed suicide and been severely abused. Her nose broken, teeth knocked in- bruises, teeth marks and scratches on her upper body. Her back and right hand had been doused with flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area bruised and cut, and lye had been poured into her vagina. She was found by a trail of blood leading to the tent indicating that she had been dragged there and was fully clothed at the time. She had also been shot on the left side of the head...she was right handed.
Sadly there are too many stories like Lavena's. Violence against women in the military is rampant.
One quarter of active duty service women have been sexually assaulted. But those numbers in all reality are much higher since many are afraid to come forward. Women are often discouraged from reporting sexual assault and rape because the command does not want to have their leadership viewed as weak, also sometimes they are protecting the offender. Women risk losing rank, money, reputation and their lives by reporting sexual assault. Victims are often blamed for the attacks and some are simply dismissed.
As of 2013, active duty vets and family members had the right to an abortion in the case of rape or incest but inactive vets do not. So, 3 years after I returned from Iraq, when I was no longer in the military- I was raped by a friend who was a drill sergeant. If I had gotten pregnant by this terrifying man and wanted to have an abortion, it would not have been covered.
The number of female veterans continues to grow and still one third of VA medical centers do not have a gynecologist on staff.
Female vets ages 18-29 commit suicide at 12 times the rate of non-vets in the same age bracket.
Female veterans are 2-4 times more likely to experience homelessness than non-veteran women.
Just this past weekend, a Facebook group called 'Marines United' has come under investigation due to some of its 30,000 members sharing nude pictures of female colleagues. I'm not the least bit surprised by this behavior. When I was in Iraq, male soldiers would pretend to accidentally open the door to the female bathroom and shower trailers. We'd be standing there naked or half-dressed while they gawked at us for a few seconds then turned and ran.
These statistics and personal stories are tragic, and there are many more-but what do they tell us about our society? I don't believe that such hate and gross dehumanization comes naturally to any person, so what creates it?
Humans have to be sold war or they will not condone it or support it. Our government has always kept us divided along class and racial lines, pitting one group against another to ensure that we control each other-making it easier for them to control us. Toxic masculinity permeates our culture and especially our military to ensure that anyone appearing to be weak in any way will be harmed or ostracized. Our capitalist society is dictated by the greed of corporations that will do anything to maintain profit. The corporate controlled media sells war to a disillusioned population, making many citizens believe that the U.S. is morally and psychologically superior to those in other countries- add some nationalistic pride disguised as patriotism and corporations have enough support to steal labor and resources wherever they can. Their biggest money maker comes from the military industrial complex.
The U.S. military is currently occupying over 150 countries around the world.
About 40% of global military spending and at least 3 quarters of arms sales come from the U.S.
In 2011 the DoD spent $100 billion dollars on the top 5 defense contractors which is the same amount that has been spent on the entire federal education budget.
I am telling you, as a person who has been sent to war, the monster that is the military industrial complex has got to be taken down or it will take us all down with it. The imperialist hand of the corporate elite will never stop taking until there is nothing left to take.
There is a fool sitting in the white house now who thinks war is going to make things better. Thinks that we need to win wars and all our problems will be solved.
I'll tell you, theres no such thing. No one wins in war. And certainly not women and femmes.
Capitalism and corporate greed have got to go. For the sake of women and marginalized people everywhere, ultimately for us all.
I'll leave you with some encouraging words that get me by in these trying times...
From Maya Angelou; I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.