March 19th, 2008
11:58 AM ET

Women Vets: Back from Iraq, but still fighting the battle

She doesn’t drive more than two miles from home. She’s afraid her minivan is going to hit a roadside bomb.  She has thoughts of suicide, nightmares about body parts falling on top of her, and sometimes can’t even remember her home phone number.

360 Tonight

Veteran Keri Christensen was nearly a victim of a roadside bombing in Iraq when the convoy in front of hers was hit. Here's a preview of her interview with Randi Kaye.

This is what life is like for Keri Christensen. She served in Iraq for the National Guard. Her job was to haul tanks up and down the country’s most dangerous roads. She was shot at by snipers and witnessed the convoy in front of hers blow up. That terrified her. She told me, “you have this fear, oh my god, I still have to go through there… and am I gonna make it?”

I first interviewed Keri in November 2006. She was part of history then, among the first group of women in the history of the United States classified as combat veterans.

Female troops technically are only allowed to do “combat support” but women are seeing violence like never before, and it’s leaving them with battle scars, both inside and out.

Keri was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, before she left the war zone. She’s been home now two and half years and is still struggling. Last fall, she hit rock bottom. Again, she thought about killing herself after another panic attack.

I asked her what “rock bottom” feels like, and she said “a very dark, lonely place.”

Keri is married with two little girls, Madison and Olivia.  She says her kids know she’s not the same “mommy” she was when she left for war. They know she’s going to counseling once a week and also group therapy. She’s taking all kinds of pills for her nightmares, PTSD, anxiety and depression.

She says she never needed any of that before the war. There have been some improvements. Keri no longer has imaginary conversations with her husband, which she was having when she first got back, and she’s sleeping about six hours a night, a step up from the four hours she’d been able to manage.

Still, she never goes far from home because her sense of direction gets foggy, and is terrified when her husband drives. She told me, “when my husband drives, if something is on the road like cardboard, I'm like don't run over it, don't run over it, when he does, I'm like (gasps)”

In 2006, the Veterans Administration diagnosed nearly 3,800 women with PTSD. But some women’s stress is compounded by sexual trauma in the military.  Keri says she was sexually harassed while serving, though the military tells CNN her complaint had no merit. Still, the VA reports between 2002 and 2007, nearly 22 percent of women veterans had experienced Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, which includes sexual harassment and assault.  

One expert, who councils women veterans, says the numbers are even worse. She says many women are afraid to report their attacks and their attackers. 

Darrah Westrup with the National Women’s Trauma Recovery Program in San Francisco says, “ the same indivduals who attacked you are those who will be protecting you or you'll be fighting along side you the next day.” 

Can you imagine?

Like many in this new class of women soldiers, Keri is learning to live with the scars she brought home. I asked her, though, if she has any hope that one day she’ll return to the woman she was before she went to war. She told me, simply, “I don't think we'll ever be the same.”

Read the full story

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent
Program Note: Watch Randi's report, tonight on 360° at 10 p.m. ET

Filed under: Iraq • PTSD • Randi Kaye
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Bailey Jenkins

    i have panic attacks and my doctor reccomends relaxation exercise*–

    October 5, 2010 at 6:16 am |
  2. Jessme

    I am going through what she is. I too find it very difficult to go any distance from my house, heck, to leave it means I am having a 'good day'. The nightmares and depression are unending. I have had PTSD for over ten years now, but it didn't begin until a few years after I had come home. I read this on CNN website and watched today where they are pushing the VA to diagnose 'anxiety' or 'adjustment disorder' instead of PTSD. Some things never change, and the sometimes shabby treatment of our veterans by the VA is one of them.

    April 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  3. Melia Meichelbock

    My point is that there are no news stories on the successes of women serving in Iraq. They are all NEGATIVE!! Did you happen to notice the gentleman's posting stating this is why women shouldn't be allowed in the military. Stories like this without any POSITIVE ones to counter it make us appear weak. Good for you that you are okay with this and willing to accept the status quo, but for some of it just pisses us off. I have received numerous letters of support for speaking up about this obviously you are not one of them.

    As for my exagerrated experiences, feel free to google my website and check out the photos. If you look closely you can see the blood splattered on our vehicle. You can also view the photos and video of me on joint foot patrols with Iraqi police. I'm one of very few, if not only, women who was allowed to do such a thing. I am very proud of my service, but the only people the media want to interview are the ones with problems.

    It's just too bad that more women don't want to speak up and share positive stories, but it sounds like from your posting that your deployment was probably spent on the safety of a base, no doubt stressed from all that paper work!

    August 24, 2008 at 5:26 pm |
  4. Katarine

    Oh please! To the "Melia Meichelbock" poster who picks on CNN and this article as showing women as not being able to handle tough situations, you are so rude, arrogant and unrealistic! I have both served and am the wife of a soldier in Iraq. CNN is an honorable news reporting agency that highlights worthwhile stories that need to be heard. Thank goodness the military is actually doing their due and diagnosing PTSD, particularly in women, when the other media outlets state that the military dodges this diagnosis. While I returned healthy and my husband is faring well, this honorable soldier's story should be shared, it should get attention and it is more and more becoming a concern. CNN nor the soldier herself never inferred that women cannot be effective or valuable in the military. It is simply a story that needs to be heard, with details unique to this lady. And yes, she is a lady and deserving of respect and protection.

    Its nice that you are doing so well and take so much time to express it. And not everyone is as unaffected as you apparently are by the horrors of war...or perhaps you simply exaggerate what you say you see. There are many many MEN from all different wars who have had similar or worse experiences in war...so what is your point anyway?

    June 10, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  5. kimiam

    Nice story!

    Thank goodness the treatment and support for PTSD has improved. Maybe some day men *and fellow women* will stop binding the feet of women by maintaining the sexist mentality because the disempowering, undermining weight of this psychological burden is a huge thing to already be lugging around when you enter the war zone. The people wearing the same uniform you have on, whom you are supposed to be able to trust and count on tearing you down...

    Anderson Cooper, we're all products of our life experiences and to say Keri will never be the same seems a bit stigmatizing although I agree things like this do change you forever -but it doesn't have to be in a bad way. At crossroads there are choices to be made.

    April 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  6. Melia Meichelbock

    What a surprise, once again the media, this time CNN, is spotlighting women soldiers in a negative “we can’t handle it light.” Please remember people that this is a very small majority of women, and let’s not forget men, who both experience PTSD. Speaking on behalf of the many women veterans who have proudly served in the U.S. Armed Forces for years, we can do without sympathy. Most of us want respect. And its articles like this that constantly highlight how we can’t cut it that irritate us the most.

    Where is the article highlighting what an excellent job woman have done handling the front lines along side men?

    I too served in Iraq, from 2004 through 2005. I too drove and manned the gun for many missions and had convoys in front of me attacked. I had people in my unit die and get burned almost to death. Is everyone really surprised that this still happens in wars? The last time I check this is the military and the military does fight wars, yes where people actually die. Anyone who joined the service just for the extra college fund or thought they would just get a free paycheck and never see blood shed was kidding themselves. The military hires you to do a dangerous job. In your initial training you learn to shoot at human shaped targets and dodge mock explosions, some people, female and male, can’t handle it. Plain and simple, they shouldn’t be in the service.

    I sympathize with this young lady, but please remember that she is not the norm. I am happy to report that I served in Iraq, have a wonderful management job, home, and husband. I am eight months pregnant with my first child and finishing up my masters degree. Matter of fact, all of the women I know who served with me are doing just as well for themselves. Not too shabby for someone who has dodged bullets.

    So please save us the pity and just give us a little nod of respect and a simple thank you for serving. That’s all we ask.

    March 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm |
  7. Jennifer

    To the people that think women shouldn't be assigned combat roles, they aren't. Technically women can't be in the infantry but they can still be medics, etc, and serve along men in other aspects. There is no front line in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war is all around you. I served at a hardened base in Iraq and we were under attack all the time. There were plenty of women who went outside the wire in convoys because it was part of their job. I was sexually harassed plenty of times and there were reports of women being raped by fellow soldiers in the showers and even in their own rooms. I love my country and it is my honor to serve in her military.

    March 22, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  8. NancyH

    This is one of the most underreported stories of this war and about women military personnel since the beginning of our co-ed military. I was one of the first 200 women in one of our military branches in the early 70's. Not only was it a waste of time to report a rape or harassment but punishment went not to the man but to the reporting female. After being raped I was laughed at by the military police and no report was written. Now 30 years, PTSD has devistated my life and my family. NO MERIT!!! Without proof it is impossible to get benifits or help. MILITARY SEXUAL TRAMA is now one of the PRIORITY dignosis of the VA. Admitting that this is a problem and that it is happening and does have MERIT would go a long way in helping victimized women.

    March 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm |
  9. Nicholas

    I'm sorry Keri.

    I'm sorry for what you had to go through and the struggles you continue to face.

    I wish there were a way to speak to you face to face or to hold you in a hug.

    I admire, appreciate, and applaud you, not only for your extroardinary service, but in your determination to persevere.

    My heart breaks for you. Your struggles are my own. And though I may never really know you, Keri, I want you to know, you have my love, and my heart.

    Thank you, and God Bless.

    March 20, 2008 at 3:08 am |
  10. Beverly H Tatum

    First I thank all soldiers who went into a war that was lie from the beginning. Not only have there been physical damage but every war leaves emotional damage. We now have a name for it, PTSD. It is very real and it a living hell. I have PTSD from childhood abuse. PTSD presents the same regardless of where the trauma originated. I would love to know what medications Keri is taking for her sleeping problems. I have never been able to sleep more than 4 hours and it is very difficult to function on so little sleep. I also have nightmares and night sweats. If Keri has a drug that has extended her sleep to 6 hours, please share what it is. My doctors and I have worked for years trying various drug combinations for my insomnia. Nothing works. Keri, if you don't mind, what has helped you get more sleep and more restful sleep.? I am already in weekly therapy but would love to know what medication has helped your sleep. Thank you and I hope you can reach a point where what you experienced can become more and more of your past and less a part of your daily thoughts.

    March 20, 2008 at 2:30 am |
  11. beth kahmann

    Hello, I'm writing from Denver, and just watched this piece regarding Women Vets/PTSD, I was glued to this report.
    Keri is very brave. I hope she has a speedy recovery,

    I myself suffer from PTSD, as a result from getting hit by a drunk driver. The main injury I incurred was a Traumatic Brain Injury-followed by PTSD, Depression. This happened in 2002, but I never received proper treatment til 2006, I still get freaked out at stop lights, as the drunk driver slammed into my car, while I waited for the light to change. There are 'silent' sufferers, because we look good on the outside, but on the inside we can be pretty anxious.

    Here in Colorado we do have many agencies/organizations to assist with this issue, what we lack, though, is ACCESS to these various agencies. Therefore, I've been creating a resource bank so that others don't have to slip through the cracks, like me. I believe more research needs to be done regarding both PTSD and TBI.

    Thanks again for highlight this stark reality.

    March 20, 2008 at 1:29 am |
  12. larisa

    It is very tragic what women in Iraq have to deal with. And not only women of course. I would like to help – I am very interested in dynamic meditation. I went to one of the seminars on it, and I also heard it is helpful with various mental issues. The mane of the organization which conducted the seminar is Silva Ultramind. I sure it might help someone.

    March 20, 2008 at 12:00 am |
  13. electress

    It is truly disturbing to hear how our women are treated.
    Keep telling your stories, we are listening! We are thinking of you and your families. Your struggles are our struggles.

    March 19, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  14. Dennis

    I don't think you ever get over PTSD. All you can do is shift the load you
    carry to make it more comfortable but it is always there and you always have to carry it. Ask a Vet he will tell you if he is still alive
    carring the load. Try to see the small bright sides of life it helps.
    Trust me on that one.....cutting grass, drinking a soda, or watching
    a moment of time go by and noticing it. A small moment. like seeing
    the moon. Its OK... life is good ....keep at living one more day.......

    March 19, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  15. Melissa R, Louisiana

    While I was never combat, I served and yes I received my share of sexual harrassment from male soldiers as well as female soldiers. No one deserves to be harrassed this way, no matter what job they choose. After all this is a freeeeee country and we can choose whatever profession we like.

    After all the sacrifices we make for everyone else's services surely we should be able to receive whatever help we need to readjust to life as a civilian. After all we rehabilitate criminals and work to reintroduce them to society why is this so hard to do for such selfless individuals as our soldiers.

    Finally, this young lady and others like her both male and female, would not be suffering this way if we'd never been tricked into going to war by this administration.

    I for one feel it is time to bring my fellow comrads home. They've liberated Iraq, their mission is over.

    March 19, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  16. Chili Padi

    My deepest and heartfelt thanks to Keri and all those fighting against terrorism. As an immigrant from the Far-East and now a citizen of this great country I owe my sense of well-being to soldiers like you.
    Keri, you should be proud of yourself and not just because I said so.
    Your service makes me feel so much smaller than you. I pray God's riches blessings on you and that you will forever stand tall for what you have contributed. I am certainly in your debt.

    March 19, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  17. Joshua

    No offense, i am not sexist or anything; but women should not be assigned combat roles. It is not the way they are built. Women are better skilled usually at planning, management, caring, nurturing, and just plain old comman sense. They don't have the same ability that men have to kill their emotions and not feel as bad. Sorry, but this is the truth. So take the women out of the military, let us men do that while the women run the country. Sounds better to me.

    March 19, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  18. Rebutter

    so james nightingshade, after reading this
    "With so many stories like this, perhaps Americans will reconsider the wisdom of putting women in combat positions of the military."
    im just going to assume that you have never heard of a man with PTSD...

    March 19, 2008 at 9:41 pm |
  19. jeffrey lumbert

    I am a combat veteran of vietnam now 100% disabled by PTSD. During the 1970's I saw the rise of militant feminism and the dogmatic equalization of absolutely every activity, opportunity, and position to ensure that there were exactly as many women in every playing field as there were men. I thought the process was being carried to an extreme at the time. I am not surprised that women are suffering more in both athletics and warfare than men. Women are not the same as men. I advocate and petition for more complete and readily available health care for all our Veterans.

    March 19, 2008 at 9:17 pm |
  20. Kevin

    It is common knowledge that women are assaulted in the armed forces. So she knew the risks and Kathryn thinks she shouldn't have joined. So... Kathryn should also believe that all women should hereby withdraw from society and move to the Islands of either Lesbos and be ruled by Sappho or Pardise Island and be ruled by Wonder Woman. How realistic does any of the above sound? Women are as much a part of this world as men. We know war is hell and assume risks inherant with that. But, nobody expects to assume the same risks from your own side as from the enemy. Otherwise we are no better than those we fight and nobody can tell the difference between either side. If we can't police our own then we need to work on that before policing others. Soldiers all know the inherant difficulty in fighting a two front war.

    March 19, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  21. Jerome, East St. Louis Metro

    Two things. First, thank you for your service Kari. Don't get down on yourself cuz you don't feel 100% yet. With PTSD, 30 months is still early in the game. It's been 10 years for me. I still shake bad sometimes but I fight back and swore I will not off myself. Your husband and girls need you, and someday they will tell you how proud they are of you winning this invisible battle. Keep doing your meds and group at the VA. They had me on 9 pills, but counseling helped more, and now I am down to just 3. Don't give up hope, ever.

    Second, I was an infantry private when the politicians started forcing the Army to put more women in combat-support jobs. We told the world that women are no less brave than men, but that mixing more of them with men in war would cause more problems. We also said that combat would hurt them and their kids more than men. The generals told us to make it work, whether it really worked or not, and we obeyed.

    Here we are 30 years later, "One expert, who councils women veterans, says the numbers [for PTSD and MST] are even worse." Of course the numbers are worse. We told the world as much, and now the experts and feminists hate us even more.

    America is still luring women into uniform to substitute for able-bodied men who won't repay their birthright with a few years of military service. Why are people so shocked to see that when we put women into the meat-grinder of war, some of them come out as hamburger?

    For women like Kari-and men-who have fought and suffered for our country, we must honor the deal America made with them. They deserve the best medical care available for their war injuries of body or mind. Shame on us if we betray them.

    Kari, hang in there, things will get better if you don't try to go it alone. I pray for your full recovery, or at least as much as any person can have who has been through war. I hope your daughters do not have to suffer likewise in their day.

    March 19, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  22. Mechelle, PA

    It seems ironic that we expect our soldiers to be tough enough to withstand a military assault, but not harassment by a male superior. There are many military men who have had to endure the wrath of a superior who doesn't like them, and openly harasses them. Maybe along with lawsuits for "sexual harassment" we should include the ability to sue for "jerk harassment".

    I don't believe women should be in combative roles. If they are unable to defend themselves from fellow soldiers, in friendly situation, how will they be able to defend themselves from an enemy during combat?

    March 19, 2008 at 8:56 pm |
  23. richard

    i am also an iraq vet and have PTSD ,it took me 2 1/2 years to finally get my VA claim ,that was after i lost everything ,i also failed to tell you that i also have a wife and three kids ,so i know what she's going through,i'm going though the same things and the VA where i live says that i need to go to my mental health meetings but i can only get in one time every three months because they are under staffed,i need to go three times a week ,some one in congress needs to help us,anyway hang in there someone will help us soon..

    March 19, 2008 at 8:37 pm |
  24. Still Hopeful

    DISGUSTING!!!!! I hope this gets the attention of the right people....people that will act!!

    March 19, 2008 at 8:25 pm |
  25. Bonnie Missouri

    I am not afraid to speak out about the sexual abuse in the military, but it's not just in the military. Give me a break it's in the homeland workplace as well. IT's a very small percentage of the women that have served in Iraq that are suffering from PTSD no higher than with the men. War is hell, and our young men have been facing it for centurys, now women need to take their place in the fight for freedom, don't make them any less heros than the men, just because they are women. I hope you have a fair outlook on women in war in your program tonight, and lets hear about some of the women who went above and beyond in this war as well.....and are dealing with the trama.

    March 19, 2008 at 7:24 pm |
  26. Janice

    It absolutely disgusts me that the military personnel are getting away with abusing their fellow female soldiers and worse, that the military defends them! I am also greatly disappointed that all except one previous poster has completely ignored that aspect of this story and instead focused on PTSD. This can just be added to list of stories heard from women serving in the military who experience sexual abuse (either assault or harrassment). It reminds me of all the stories from the Air Force Academy about their female cadets being raped by their male counterparts and the superiors refusing to even acknowledge the problem, much less do anything about it. When almost a quarter of the female veterans have been sexually assaulted or harrassed (plus the many more who don't report it) there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. I can only hope that this issue is given the attention it deserves and the men who are committing these heinous acts are severely punished.

    March 19, 2008 at 7:02 pm |
  27. Kathryn

    It's common knowledge about women being sexually assaulted in the armed forces. Did she believe war was going to be a picnic? I'm as sympathetic to her as I would be to any soldier having PTS, but surely she knew the risks before she ever decided to join the Guard. She didn't have to join, & she should not have. Women are mostly more sensitive than men, & especially where sexual abuse is concerned, it affects your whole psyche. War is hellish enough for men, women should do what they do best, and men the same. For most women, that means taking care of something other than tanks & cannon. Not being sexist, just realistic.

    March 19, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  28. Rob

    NEWS FLASH: War is hell. Its seems to me she's only proving what we already knew, women should not be on the front lines.

    March 19, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  29. Doug

    It's been 38 years since I returned from Viet Nam. Is there a cure??

    March 19, 2008 at 5:25 pm |
  30. Kevin

    Amen Charlene...
    It is a crying shame how we treat our military personnel.
    It was particularly sad the part ...

    Christensen receives counseling and group therapy sponsored by the VA. However, the military has said there is no merit to her claims that she suffered military sexual trauma.

    The military would deny the existence of the moon if it served their objectives.

    March 19, 2008 at 5:21 pm |
  31. charlene Texas

    It's funny. Not one person above me mentioned the fact about the sexual abuse and assaults. I guess you all are afraid to speak out too. We like to think women are respected in our country but sometimes I'm not sure we are better off than our Middle- Eastern females.

    March 19, 2008 at 4:43 pm |


    March 19, 2008 at 3:57 pm |
  33. Rosalie

    No one wants to talk about the issue of sexual assault and rape in the military. How horrible it must have been for her when she was attacked by men on her own side! She (and other women) don't even have the bonding and the friendship of other soldiers to rely upon. And then the Army says her claim is "without merit", so she is again being attacked by her own side. My heart goes out to her and others like her – may they somehow find the grace to forgive. No wonder they feel like they are still in a combat zone!

    March 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  34. Janna

    Her complaint of MST had "no merit"....Yes, it's very difficult to prove and take action against-however- If this issue was at least VALIDATED, it could mean a great deal to the recovery of these heroic soldiers.

    March 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm |
  35. Emily

    Indeed, I think women serve in a superior capacity in the military (although there are some, like the men, who might not fit exactly the military mold) But what is the military mold? How does (really if we are truthful) the youth driven-hyper-masculine nature of the enlisted, and sometimes officer constituency affect women serving? What goes on in Iraq certainly stays there, as i can attest, and the rule of law is exercised by your unit. You need the unit to survive, rape and harassment be damned. And if you happen to be queer-you can never,ever get psychological help for fear of losing any benefit you might have worked for in the first place. Just something to think about....morality.

    March 19, 2008 at 3:17 pm |
  36. James Nightshade

    It's sad to hear about the trauma caused by this war, particularly to wives and mothers. With so many stories like this, perhaps Americans will reconsider the wisdom of putting women in combat positions of the military.

    March 19, 2008 at 3:13 pm |
  37. Debbie, NJ

    My heart goes out to Keri and all of the troops. I am a widow who's husband was a veteran and suffered from PTSD for years. I also pray for the family members of these vets because it takes a lot of love, understanding and patience to be able to support them.

    March 19, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  38. massengale harold

    I really dont know what to say but the only thing i can tell you i tha yall are doing a pretty good jod out there keep the good work.

    March 19, 2008 at 3:01 pm |
  39. therealist

    Trama has a way of sticking with you for the rest of your life. Image the horror of living under oppression..

    Thank you Keri, for a lifetime of service to our country.

    March 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  40. Marcia Warren MI

    This sounds like a very interesting report. I really think that sometimes we forget that the men aren't the only one fighting overseas, far from home. Many women, not just nurses serve this country and do suffer the terrible consequences of war. Hopefully one day soon we will realize that PTSS and the horrors of war affect every person, who serves in some way and that they all deserve the support and care of everyone once they get home.

    March 19, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  41. Annie Kate


    I feel sympathy for all the soldiers and former soldiers that suffer with PTSD. What a dreadful toil it takes on our young people who went to serve their country and were fortunate enough to come back. I hope Keri and the others like her get all the treatment and support they need and are one day able to capture some of the person they were before they were deployed to Iraq. PTSD is a grim reminder that sometimes the more lasting deep wounds are those that cannot be physically seen.

    iBest wishes to Keri and her family and to all the thousands of others who suffer from this.
    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 19, 2008 at 12:42 pm |
  42. Ham

    Sad this happens to so many... Combat can have terrible effects on your mind... it's hard to get past sometimes.

    I don't like the idea of women in combat... not that they can't do the job... "They Do"... just the large number of other factors that come into play.

    Good luck to her and her family...

    March 19, 2008 at 12:24 pm |
  43. Buckly in New York

    Powerful story. We can only hope that Keri and the thousands of others afflicted with PTSD get the support and care that they need in order to live normal lives again.

    March 19, 2008 at 12:15 pm |
  44. Cindy

    It is sad what all soldiers go through once coming back from war but it makes it twice as bad when it is a woman with children that depend on her.

    It is sad to hear what all Keri has to contend with every day trying to get over all that she saw and did over there. Hopefully one day with all of the help she gets that she can get back to a somewhat normal life!!

    I'm really looking forward to your report tonight.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    March 19, 2008 at 12:12 pm |

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