Guest, Susan Avila-Smith

Guest Name: 
Susan Avila-Smith
Susan Avila Smith
Guest Occupation: 
Founder and Director of VetWow, International Speaker, Consultant for the movie "The Invisible War," Advocate for Veterans, former Army Linguist
Guest Biography: 

Susan Avila-Smith is a former Army linguist who has experienced both MST (Military Sexual Trauma) and PTSD (Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder). As a veterans' advocate for those with MST and PTSD she has to her credits approximately 4,000 claims settled on behalf of fellow veterans suffering from MST, PTSD or both.

Founder and Director of VetWow, Ms. Susan Avila-Smith is a sought-after media guest who has spoken to international audiences about the challenges faced by survivors of Military Sexual Trauma - sexual harassment, assault and rape while serving on active duty. She has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, 20/20, NPR, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and others, as well as testifying at the House Military Subcommittee on Military Sexual Trauma. From VAMC health care to the VARO benefits system, she has discussed both their benefits and failures from the perspective of MST victims. Currently, she trains other advocates to help with this work. And realizing that American service personnel's needs were too often being ignored by the military and the government, she formed VetWow; the leading grassroots non-partisan organization, which addresses the needs of American service members and veterans.

Susan extends herself with courage, revealing something few MST survivors can express. In telling the story of her personal trauma and subsequent struggle, she opens the door to an insider's view of the hostile world confronting victims of MST. Her battles with bureaucrats for rightful recognition and compensation for her permanent disabilities trigger disgust and anger in those learning about the reality of the very system that is supposed to care for her and others with MST.

Ms. Avila-Smith's Active Duty training, her experience of reporting both DV and MST while in the Military, of being treated for years by Washington State's best counselors, of obtaining VA Benefits, and her extensive contact with other Active Duty and Veteran MST survivors as well as her participation in the 60-day National Center for PTSD's Women's Trauma Recovery Program (WTRP) give her an inside view of the real issues surrounding MST that is not offered anywhere else.

"I have changed victim's lives by helping them apply for and win their VA benefits, and I have had an extraordinary life over the past 15 years because of it. I have learned much and want to share this knowledge with people who can teach or do this work. By working on my personal PTSD issues, helping others, and sharing my experience; I have become healthier."

Since leaving the military, she has been a tireless advocate for veterans, and women veterans in particular. Ms. Avila-Smith is well-versed on the effects of PTSD. She speaks to these issues, as well as the increasing rates of suicide, substance abuse and homelessness among our service members. Her work is funded out of pocket.