November 19, 2008, St. Louis, MO – Retired Army Sgt. Angela Peacock once was outgoing, competitive and athletic. These days, she barely functions, trusts no one and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that prevents her from working.
She has gained 100 pounds and chain smokes. She lives alone in northern St. Louis County on a military pension and disability.
The story of Peacock’s struggle to recover from the trauma of combat and an alleged sexual assault by an officer premieres Wednesday in a new online documentary. “Angie’s Story” is the latest webcast in the series “In Their Boots,” about the struggles of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families.
The series is a project of the Brave New Foundation, a Culver City, Calif.-nonprofit group headed by filmmaker and political activist Robert Greenwald. His films, including “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers,” “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” and “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” are left-leaning.
But “In Their Boots” is apolitical. That was a condition of the grant from the financial backer, the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, Greenwald said.
“This is not partisan work,” he said. “We were approached to take this on because the stories of patriotic men and women returning home and adjusting to physical and mental problems are stories that traditional media have not been covering.”
The series has explored such topics as traumatic brain injury, the plight of young military widows and a soldier’s suicide from the parents’ point of view.
In the 20-minute documentary “Angie’s Story,” Peacock says she told her platoon leader while deployed in South Korea in 2001 that she’d been raped by a noncommissioned officer.
She recalled her platoon leader saying, “If you tell, they’re going to make you look like a whore. They’re going to say you were drinking, it’s all your fault. You better just keep your mouth shut.”
Peacock said she later learned 57 military women had been sexually assaulted in South Korea that year.
Peacock held onto her secret, but when she was sent to Iraq the combined trauma of the sexual assault and combat made her physically and mentally ill. She lost 50 pounds and couldn’t eat or sleep.
In the film, she remembers thinking in Baghdad, “I’m going to die in Iraq — from this.”
She eventually got help at Fort Lewis, Wash., where she was ordered to see a psychiatrist. She cried uncontrollably in his office.
Peacock recalled thinking, “I can’t hold this in another minute, I’m done covering it up.”
But there were more bumps: the breakup of her brief marriage to a fellow soldier who also suffered from PTSD, an addiction to painkillers and subsequent efforts to rehabilitate, being booted out of her family’s home when she moved back to St. Louis, reliving nightmares of Iraq and the rape.
One day, she called a veterans hospital and told the person on the other line that she was about to kill herself. She was checked in immediately and started the slow crawl out of hell. She said she’s not there yet.
“We want our lives back and we need help,” Peacock said of female veterans. “We need more support for emotional difficulties.”
She continued: “I see two problems. The chain of command doesn’t take us seriously, and rape from fellow soldiers is a constant threat. It’s way underreported.”
Patricia Hayes, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ women’s health care specialist, said Tuesday every veteran is screened for military sexual trauma or severe sexual harassment, and that 22 percent of women and 1 percent of men report having been victimized during their military career.
She said sexual assault therapy is available at every VA clinic. People serving in the military have feared reporting sexual abuse, but the culture is shifting because of Department of Defense prevention and response initiatives in the last three years, Hayes said.
Before, she said, “it was stuff it and live with it.”
The Defense Department said in a statement it is committed to eliminating sexual assault through a robust prevention and response policy, removing barriers to reporting and ensuring that care is available to victims.
Last year, the military took action against 600 suspected perpetrators. An additional 572 are awaiting action.