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Willow tree planted at Tomah VA Medical Center to honor survivors of MST


TOMAH, Wisconsin (WEAU) – April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and among the survivors are military service members.

The Tomah VA uses this time to recognize veterans who are struggling with this type of trauma that results from their time in the ministry.

“We believe in you and we believe in you” is the national slogan of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which supports veterans who take the difficult first step of disclosure.

A symbol of grief, growth and resilience for survivors now stands on the campus of Tomah VA Medical Center.

“We wanted a tree in particular, a tree planting, because we wanted something on campus that could be that ongoing recognition,” said Dr. Sarah Dahl. She is the MST coordinator for the medical center.

MST is short for Military Sexual Trauma, and the willow tree planted Wednesday afternoon is something Dr. Dahl symbolizes many things, especially the water willows that you always find.

“And water has a lot of purifying symbolism. And that message of grief and cleansing and resilience and growth… that’s what we want our survivors to feel and hear from us,” said Dr. dahl

How many veterans come to Tomah VA Medical Center for help coping with this trauma? dr Dahl and Peer Support Leader at Medical Center Chad Johnson will tell you not to stray too far from the tree.

“And so these flags are a recognition of our Tomah-specific MST survivors,” said Dr. dahl

“So this 932 here last year, we are talking about decades. We’re talking about people from World War II to the present. So we’re talking about people who are in their 80s just coming forward now. To people who retired from the military at the age of 18 and 19,” Johnson said.

The numbers may seem alarming, but the surge in reported cases is, according to Dr. dahl hope.

“Our veterans finally don’t feel alone anymore. You can finally come in and get some healing and support. To see that number grow over the years that I’ve shown this flag is a really nice sign of the cultural shift that we’re having,” said Dr. dahl

Filling in the tree will take some time.

“Maybe in 20 to 30 years they can come back here and sit under the shade of this tree and realize that this tree is for them,” Johnson said.

Tomah VA Medical Center provides year-round assistance to MST survivors.

dr Dahl said she is the primary point of contact for MST veterans seeking help.

She can be reached at (608) 372-3971 extension. 66426.

She said no documentation related to the attack is required, nor do veterans need to worry about meeting eligibility criteria to receive medical center benefits.