Female soldiers wounded in combat, but denied benefits

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on December 14, 2009 at 7:59 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 15 at 11:31 AM

KIRKLAND, Wash. - During her year in Iraq, Sgt. Kristine Turley of Kirkland was in hot spots from Baghdad to Mosel to Camp Anaconda, which was being attacked more than any other base in Iraq while she was there.

"When we were receiving mortar attacks, which was on a daily basis, I would go into the office and see where the vulnerabilities were, if it was at any one of the gates," said Turley.

Turley was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Operations at Camp Anaconda and frequently spent time at the three heavily reinforced gates assessing threat levels and security.

Technically, Turley was in a support role. She was with the Washington Army National Guard 181st Support Battalion out of Seattle. She was initially assigned to be a petroleum specialist, but was moved to operations. She received most of her training on the job. And like many women serving in Iraq Turley was often in harm’s way while providing intelligence, logistics, security and tactical oversight to combat missions.

"How do you tell the mortars, oh, there's women here please don't drop a mortar, oh there's women don't shoot in our direction, we wear the same uniform, eat the same foods," Turley said.

On July 4, 2004, during an Al Qaeda attack on Camp Anaconda, Turley fell into a narrow ditch while running to her post.

"It hyper-extended all of the ligaments and tore all of the muscles in my leg,” Turley said. She had surgery, but continues to have problems with her foot, leg, back and neck on the right side of her body.

Yet when she was discharged, Turley’s all important DD-214 paperwork made no mention of her combat experience. She’s had to fight to prove that she deserves medical coverage for her injuries and treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.

Turley says that the Veterans Administration told her, “We need to know if somebody was shot in front of you. We need to know if you saw body parts. We need to know if you saw explosions.”

She says that she saw all of those things but had to get signed witness statements from other men and women who served with her as proof.

Last March, Senator Patty Murray intervened on Turley’s behalf. And just last week, Senator Murray, (D)-Washington, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, asking them to improve how combat experience is tracked.

"They (women) have served their country, they’ve been in terrific situations and they need treatment, whether it’s traumatic brain injury or post traumatic stress syndrome or other injuries and to be denied the care because our forms haven’t caught up with modern warfare is wrong,” said Senator Murray.

Murray wants discharge papers to accurately reflect combat experience so that women don’t have to fight for years to get the benefits they deserve.

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