This article is '(mostly) the story of Susan Sonnheim, a veteran of the Iraq war who was injured in Baghdad - blown up by a road-side bomb.
Sonnheim's body was peppered with shrapnel. Hundreds of pieces remain lodged in her legs and throughout much of her body. Her left eye is fully blind. She has shrapnel lodged in her "good" eye, and her hearing is dulled. She underwent multiple reconstructive surgeries on her face and ear during a 19-month stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.Her injuries have caused her problems, but so have the attitudes of male veterans and the employees of the veterans' hospital where she is treated and where she also works.
She was awarded a purple heart, but apparently the men don't think any women have been injured in Iraq.
“They (patients at the hospital) will ask me, 'Whose pin is that?' or 'Why are you wearing that pin?'”The employees aren't much better.
When Sonnheim went to get her flu shot at the VA, "The clerk was asking everybody `What's your name? What's your name?' Then when I got up to the table she said, 'Are you a veteran?'These may seem like trivial complaints, and perhaps they are, but when little things happen every day they stop being little and become more than just irritating.
"They just don't acknowledge women," she said.
The VA itself is struggling to rethink its procedures and educate its staff, but the impression I get from this article is of an organization stuck mostly in the 1970s.
The problem can be summed up as follows:
"Men come back and they have women fluttering around them taking care of them," said Molly Carnes, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the women veterans health program at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison. "Women come back and suddenly they're thrust into the caregiving role, taking care of their children and supporting their husbands.Sondheim's husband divorced her, her family considers her "difficult" and won't talk about Iraq.