Navy Veteran: “I never wanted to talk about what happened.”

A candid story to launch PTSD Awareness Month


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Michael Corso joined the Navy just after high school. He grew up in an unstable home, and is the survivor of child abuse. In the Navy, Corso saw an opportunity to start anew. He would travel the world and maybe find a new kind of family.

A self-described loner when he joined, Corso found the structure and routine of the military grounding. He gained confidence in himself through his job as a Personnel Man 3rd class… and also socially. “The Navy really helped me come out of myself and to try to make friends and acquaintances,” he said.

One of those friendships went terribly wrong. “I think somehow he could tell something about me that I wouldn’t do anything about it. He was right,” Corso said. That “friend” sexually assaulted him, changing his life forever.

Today, VA statistics show that 1 in 50 enlisted men and 1 in 3 women report experiencing MST (military sexual trauma). The effects can be devastating.

Young sailor Michael Corso

“I was scared,” Corso remembered. “He was still on the ship. I lost all that feeling of safety when that happened to me. And I lost a family.”

“I didn’t feel there was anybody I could talk to.”

Corso didn’t report. “There’s that mindset that we should be able to handle things on our own,” he said. “But this was something I couldn’t handle and I didn’t feel like there was anybody I could talk to.”

His self-confidence was profoundly shaken in the years that followed. “I wasn’t able to have any close, intimate relationships for many, many years.” he added. “I pretty much stayed alone and didn’t understand who I was or who I was supposed to be.”

Corso then stumbled into a marriage and started a family. He struggled with the continued impact of the MST on his sense of security and his ability to connect with others. The tipping point came when a coworker told him to get some help.

“Hearing other men tell their stories helped me.”

Corso eventually turned to VA, and he was diagnosed with PTSD and entered into an MST program. “Hearing other men tell their stories helped me understand that it was okay for me to start talking about it and get the right treatment,” he said.

The marriage didn’t survive, but today Corso is close with his children. “They know about everything that’s happened and they still love me. That’s a good feeling,” he added.

And his life has taken another positive turn. “I’m now happily married to this amazing person and the person happens to be a guy,” he shared. “It doesn’t mean that everybody that goes through MST is gay, but for me, through all the counseling and everything, it helped me see that maybe I needed to look at that part of my life. It was a good look and a good experience.”

Sharing his story has helped Corso become more comfortable with himself and with others. Today, he’s a Peer Specialist at VA. “I have no problem telling my story,” he said. “I know I’m helping someone else, but I also realize how far I’ve come.”

June is PTSD Awareness Month.


Vicky Bippart is the producer and director of AboutFace at VA’s National Center for PTSD.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Adrian King    

    Why I get my Healthcare at the VA.. cost. I am currently 90% rated and can’t work per my VA doctors and common sense. However the other half of the VA IE. the ratings board feel that I can still work and will not give my 100% or unemployability. Again… VA doctors say I can’t work (and haven’t physically be about since 2007), but VA rating board says I can work. So I get to spend my days trying to survive on a bit more than 1850 per month (at 44 years old). Thats why I get my Healthcare at the VA…. Its free. IT SUCKS but its free. Thank you for your service… uh huh…..

  2. Elena Pope    

    I served 9 years on active duty in the Army. I was not raped, but had some encounters that deeply troubled me. I was in a company at Fort Rucker, AL, where the First Sergeant took me out to dinner, after I made Soldier of the Month of the company, then battalion, runner-up for brigade. My framed photo was on the walls. I thought he invited me because I made Soldier of the Month, but I was wrong. After dinner, and sitting in his car explaining to him in any way I could that I didn’t want to “have a drink” with him in a barracks room on base, I was able to get out of the car. BTW: he was married with a toddler, his much younger wife lived in base housing, and rumor had it he made her pregnant when she was an E-4, then had to marry her to save his retirment. But the next day, I was assaulted in the latrine at 6 a.m. by a black soldier twice my size. She tried to carve out my eyeballs with her long finger nails, and it took all my strength to keep her nails out of my eyes. We stopped when another black soldier entered the latrine. I never found out whether this attack was linked to my refusal to “have a drink” with my First Sergeant. I licked my wounds, moved out of the barracks into a friend’s trailer off-base, never reported the attack (probably a mistake), but this incident scarred me for life. It changed the way I felt about the Army; I had liked it very much up to that point. I never saw that First Sergeant again, and was able to PCS to another duty station a few months later. To this day, I regret not reporting my attacker to the MPs. Should I have done that?

  3. Michelle Chaudoir    

    I know things like this happen to men. It happened to my dad in the 60s. It was the shrink they sent him to over another issue. I went in in the early 80s. There were very few women on ships at that time. We were attacked so much we had to develop a female buddy system to move around the ship at night, or on late night, in port watches in engineering spaces. I was scared all the time but had seen what happened to whistle blowers, after I got dragged into a court marshal as a witness, when it was found that I was witness to an incident. I was threatened, when I walked into a space people stopped talking or got up and left. This followed me for years and hurt me when I would transfer, or try to. Seems there was always someone that remembered and would tell everyone I was a trouble maker before they even knew me. And this was in addition to all of the sexual assaults and degradation I had to endure on a daily basis. Looking back, I cant imagine why I stayed. I suffered blinding migraines and insomnia for years but wouldnt seek help because i was so sure if i just worked hard enough, proved myself enough, had the best evals, etc, etc…. that one day I would be respected for my efforts. This sort of happened, to the detriment of my health, but there was still a shield around my tormentors in the form of the goat locker. I tried counciling early on but actually had a navy doctor tell me to “stop feeling sorry for myself.” When he said it, it took a minute to sink in, I got up and walked out of his office and he said not one word. Never went back. I learned to compartmentalize. But the anger…. omg the anger I deal with inside of me. I’ll tell you what I think kept me going: the guys coming in on all the subs I worked on over the years. The best of the best. They were respectful, kind, and genuinely treated me like a human being. We would sit out on the pier having a smoke or two, telling our deepest secrets. To all of the bubbleheads out there, thanks for keeping me sane and caring about a shy young girl from south Louisiana. I wish I hadnt been so traumatized, I wish I had remembered some names. The only one that pops up in my head was a guy names Edward Sweet. I remember it because it’s odd lol.
    I guess what I’m trying to say, in my roundabout way, is that it’s very complicated. It’s hard to explain to people why you didnt report things or stand up for yourself, or get help. Maybe that was what made me lay in bed at night, gritting my teeth, being eaten up by anger due to the sheer futility of how things worked. I’m sure I’m not alone. I became an alcoholic and had a couple of ruined marriages. I take responsibility for that. But being sober through this whole covid time has given me the ability to “remember” and allow myself to have an honest conversation with myself. To remember the kindness that WAS there. In a way the bad memories are fading and I can smile when I think about the bubbleheads that would find me down on the sub, working on a shaft seal job or one of the pumps, crying my eyes out because I thought no one was looking, and would take me up to the galley and make me a cup of coffee and just be kind. Once the guys from my shop and I had to inspect the underside of the snorkel mast in the wee hours. I was smaller so I usually did the inspection. They closed me up under the superstructure and it was pitch black. Lots of overhaul noises and I wasnt heard for a while. When they found me I was very upset and quite a mess. I tried to play it down because it was a practical joke after all. Thanks guys, you kept me going.

  4. Bill Culotta    

    My name is Bill Culotta, and served in Vietnam in 1967 and I have shared my feelings in an Oral History study. I do not mind helping any way I can. Unfortunately, I can feel for those wit PTSD but my thoughts are those of a hard and fast that our Vets got sold down the river of a corrupt dishonest war for a multitude of reasons. Finding out the information in recent years has even made me feel the legacy of Lynden Johnson has been tarnished by his sending our youth to Nam knowing it was a futile war but continued. Our government was to blame! That has been true for all our wars except WWII and Korea! So I offer any help needed, however you might find me a bad influence!!!

    Bill Culotta

  5. Kathryn Diana    

    “VA statistics show that 1 in 50 enlisted men and 1 in 3 women report experiencing MST.”

    And those are just the reported statistics. I served over a decade in the Army and I can say without a doubt, sexual harassment and assault is just as prevalent as it was when I first joined.

    1. Robert Jackson    

      This happened to me while I was in the Navy. I was a EMFN when it happened. A Sr chief repeatedly raped me while on cruise. We pulled into sasebo Japan and saw a young sailor body on a pier because he was killed after disclosing he was raped on the USS Kitty hawk my rapist looked at me and smirked I was terrified. This happened and the Clinton era of don’t ask don’t tell I still have nightmares from it I’m beginning to deal with it now so many years later, I’ve pushed my family away friends engaged in drugs alcohol risky behaviors even attempted suicide on several occasions. Seems like I’m not being believed when I tell the VA, I feel they only want to hear the story

  6. George ONeale    

    I know exactly how people feel. I was sexually assaulted and left in tears and fright. I was only in boot camp and afraid to tell anyone. It happened on my watch late at night when I was making rounds. A Lt.JG trapped me in elevator and threatened to kill me if I told anyone. He was a senior officer and it scared me to death. I will never forget that night and the damage it caused me.
    The VA does their best to help all veterans and I am proof. I am retired now with a beautiful wife of 36 yrs. Please get help, people at the VA do care.
    This is the first time I have spoken about this my entire life. I have dealt with it personally and only wish the programs were set up then. Please take advantage and ask for help. I never did but am one of the lucky ones. I survived the hurt but will always remember.

  7. Cynthia Ann Koehler    

    I am so glad that this is being publicized. Back in 1974, it was really bad. I tried to report my rapes, but between my mother and the military, I had no chance of vindication. After I got out and went to the VA about it, I found out how useless the VA truly was..

  8. PaulaMinger    

    So glad you’ve covered this. The Mil/vet publications refuse too even mention it

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