Melwood veterans services supporting victims of military sexual trauma


This content is sponsored by Melwood

The impact of military sexual trauma can last a lifetime and often makes the transition to civilian life difficult. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare services, one out of four female veterans who seek treatment report being a victim of military sexual trauma. However, since women make up only 10 percent of the military population, female-specific health programs and issues are consistently underserved.

However, Melwood is offering victims of military sexual trauma a new option for recovery. Melwood Veteran Services pioneering program called Operation Tohidu®, is the only one of its kind, and offers a rehabilitative retreat to help this underserved – and growing – population of veterans nationwide to start their journey toward healing.

“Military sexual trauma has historically been a taboo subject,” says Neil DuPont-Garrett, LCSW, a U.S. Army veteran and Operation Tohidu® retreat facilitator. “We women didn’t feel empowered to talk about our struggle with it. The women we have helped forgot how powerful they are.”

Special Retreats for Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

Operation Tohidu®, comes from the Cherokee word meaning peace of mind, body, and spirit and seeks to help veterans bring these elements together to help them heal. For victims of military sexual trauma, Tohidu lives out its promise through weeklong purposeful retreats in the Maryland countryside. The experiential program focuses on vigorous outdoor activities and confidence-building exercises to help warriors, their spouses, and caregivers begin to cope with their trauma and overcome obstacles to recovery.

As an MST survivor herself, DuPont-Garrett not only understands what other participants are going through, but has also healed through being at the retreats.  “I think I’m doing as well as I am today because of these retreats and I can join hands with my sisters who are with me on this journey.”

The healing retreats offer veterans and active-duty military from around the country a safe environment in the privacy of same-gender peer groups, with facilitators who have experienced the many of the same kind of traumas as group members. Activities are designed to promote comradeship, self-awareness, and self-management of symptoms, as well as the ability to lead a more fulfilling life by focusing on the present.

Retired General David Blackledge heads Melwood Veterans Services. During 37 years in the military, Blackledge was wounded twice and has often spoken about his personal struggle with post-traumatic stress.

“The theme of each of our military sexual trauma-focused retreats is, ‘Find Your Voice’,” said Gen. Blackledge. “Many military sexual trauma victims feel betrayed by the organizations that they served, suffer in silence, and experience long-term impact to their close personal relationships. They feel that they’ve lost control over some parts of their lives.”

“Operation Tohidu® helps military sexual trauma victims reconnect to their inner warrior and gives them tools to shape their future in a positive manner,” Gen. Blackledge says.

Help Melwood Help Veterans

At Operation Tohidu®, all veterans have a voice.

Retreats are offered at no cost to participants.

For more information and to apply online, please visit:

To support wounded veterans and Operation Tohidu, please consider donating either cash or your car to Melwood.

About Melwood

Melwood is one of the largest employers of people of differing abilities in the country, employing more than 1,600 workers – nearly 1,000 of whom are people of differing abilities. Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,500 people each year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also has an inclusive summer camp program for children and provides employment and support services to veterans and active duty military members who have experienced service-related trauma or injury. For more information, visit

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