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- Courtesy BriGette McCoy
- SCREEN TIME: BriGette Mccoy (left) at a 2012 screening of the documentary Service: When Women Come Marching Home on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
I think my first time being homeless was in 2003. I suffered a really bad car accident and ended up being off my job for about six months. I ended up losing my house. I ended up losing my car and having to live with some people because I was too ashamed and scared to go home. That's how I ended up living here in Georgia. I ended up in a program called Home Stretch. They're affordable housing for moderate-income families who are on the brink of homelessness. We stayed for about 18 months, and it was great. But when it got bad, it got bad. That's pretty much the way it went with me. I lost my job and couldn't afford to stay in the program, and then ended up getting married and thought that would help me. And that didn't work out, either.
I was hiding from myself, hiding from what had happened. Up until 2006 or '07 I didn't even say I was a veteran. Then in 2006, I finished a masters in theology [at Restoration Theological Seminary in Jonesboro, Ga.]. And you have to do so many hours of intern and externship. I kept working with women. I worked with women with low IQs. And I worked with another group of women who had lost their kids to foster care. And then I thought, nobody's doing anything for homeless veteran women.
I was doing my due diligence, doing some research, gathering data. And in 2006, probably early 2007, I met a lady who put me in touch with a woman named Susan Avila-Smith. [Susan] pretty much could tell by conversation with me that something was not right about my military history. She would ask, "Well, what happened to you in the military?" And I'd be like, "Oh, yeah I served, I'm good." And she was like, "Well, yeah, but what's your story?" And I'd be like, "I served. I'm good." I did not want to talk about it.
She was very kind. She didn't force me. She said, "I think you need to check into Military Sexual Trauma." When I started reading her page VetWOW, I was like this is what happened to me. This is it.
The word rape probably didn't come up until 2010. And I don't think I even said it. I think someone else said it and I nodded. I think the first time I actually said the word out loud in public was at the Senate hearing [in March]. It's like sand in your mouth. It's uncomfortable, it shouldn't be there but you can't get rid of it. I don't care what you do. You can swish your mouth out, and just when you think you got it out, it comes back again.
Why shouldn't the military be a safe workplace? Why shouldn't you be able to lay down in your barrack room and be safe? Why shouldn't you be able to go to your duty station and be safe? 19,000 men and women are getting raped every year [in the military].
But there is one thing I want to say: When we talk about the things that happen in the military, we have to portray them in this way that doesn't diminish them. We're trying to change sexual assault in the military. Not everything when I served was bad. I met some of the best people I ever met in my life, I made some of the most enduring relationships I've had. The skills and the training and the expertise and the travel, I wouldn't change those things.
Even now, when I hear the sound of soldiers walking, when I hear those boots hitting the concrete, I love that sound. I still cry when I hear that sound.