CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - When our military members come home from war, many of them come home with images in their minds that are unimaginable. Some of them are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
For three women, their nightmares don't include mortars or gunfire, but rape by the hands of their own countrymen during their time in the military.
"I enlisted when I was 17. During my service, I was raped on two different occasions. I hadn't even been in the Marine Corps for six months and that happened to me. It was like my welcome aboard to the Marine Corps."
"It was in the 70s and people didn't talk much back then. I was raped when I was in school and got pregnant as a result and was raped again."
"I wanted to make it a career. I wanted to do 20 years then retire, then find something else to do, but that got taken away from me. I was raped by my platoon sergeant when I was in AIT, Advanced Individual Training, that's the school for the military. That was just one of my traumas."
Three female veterans who met for the first time at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center are now sharing their story.
"When you're told not to talk, back then you didn't talk," said Nancy Sloan.
"I did report one trauma, but you couldn't do that. My first Sergeant told me 'you're a soldier, we protect each other, and I don't want to hear nothing else about it'," said Rene Kirklin.
"I went on with my career. I got into the legal field, and when I got into the legal field, I realized just exactly how predominant this type of thing is," said Trisha Neujahr.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in the military. This statistic is a harsh reality that led some of them to using.
"I've been through 10 rehabs and I have been told very early on, starting in the 70s, why are you drinking so much? What happened? This isn't you," said Sloan.
"I graduated from the alcohol to the crack cocaine. So I did that for many, many, many, many years to try and mask how I was feeling," explained Kirklin.
Dr. Kate Chard is the Director of the Trauma Recovery Center at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, and she is treating all three women for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Whether you're in combat and you lose your best friend, or you're raped in the military, you're still going to have the issues of safety. Am I safe? Is the world safe? Trust, power and control. Esteem. Am I worthy? Am I worthwhile? My best friend died. I didn't save him. I no longer feel worthy. I was raped. The military didn't protect me. I'm no longer worthy, and then intimacy," Chard revealed.
The goal of treatment is to help them take back control of their lives, and in just seven weeks, they've seen changes within each other.
"Things that I never even thought were big issues, they were," said Kirklin.
"I feel like I am worth saving. I feel so worthwhile," Sloan conveyed.
They endured the pain of a tough experience together and say they'll never forget.
"It's a huge sisterhood. Circumstances may be different, but the end result is all the same, and it's a bond that I know without a show of doubt can never be broken," added Sloan.
Rene has been clean from drugs and alcohol the past 10 years, and Nancy has been clean for the past 6 months. They graduated from the trauma program last week.
The Department of Defense estimates as many as 19,000 sexual assaults may have happened in the military in 2011.
Now, authorities are cracking down on these sex crimes by designing programs to boost victim medical care, increase assault reporting and hold offenders accountable for their crimes.
Dr. Kate Chard will be on the FOX19 Morning News Tuesday at 8 a.m. to speak more about PTSD in the military.