FORT POLK — Have you ever felt trapped? Sometimes it can feel like the walls are closing in and the weight of the world is crushing you. Now imagine adding getting beat up by your spouse and fear for your child’s safety to the mix and you might get a small inkling of what a victim of abuse and sexual assault feels when they are married to their abuser.
Fort Polk’s Army Community Service Victim Advocacy Program is designed to help victims of domestic violence by providing them information and assistance regarding their rights, establishing a safety plan and helping them access medical care, safe lodging, emergency transportation and relocation.
Gladys Mosby, VAP coordinator/Family advocacy program specialist, said she believes VAP provides the support victims need and critical information about programs available to them.
“Advocates also provide guidance by walking a client through the process of reporting, applying for those programs and beyond from beginning to end,” she said.
One of the programs that fall under the umbrella of VAP is the Transitional Compensation Program (TC). The program provides temporary financial assistance to eligible Family members.
This allows them to reestablish their lives after the abusive Soldier is separated from the Army for a dependent abuse offense — crimes such as sexual assault, rape, sodomy, assault, battery, child abuse (to include neglect), murder and manslaughter when acted out by a Soldier on his/her Family member.
Mosby said the program, which began in 1995, is one of the greatest resources VAP provides.
“We know there are a lot of spouses who stay in difficult situations because they don’t see a way out. They feel if they leave, they will end up in a shelter or homeless,” she said. “That’s the very reason to let them know this resource is available. If they want to report abuse, then they know there is a resource available to assist them with the money to get a roof over their heads and food for their children.”
The transitional compensation program is a valuable resource that Mosby said she would like to see more people take advantage of.
Mosby said it’s not a victim advocate’s job to make decisions for their clients, but to listen and offer support and reassurance as long as they wish.
“We are a judgment free zone. We are here to help them (victims) get to the place they need to be to make the appropriate decisions for themselves and their Families,” she said.
Rhonda Fulton-Bolger, Victim Advocate and transitional compensation program coordinator, has been in charge of the program since July 2013.
Fulton-Bolger said TC is designed to help victims transition into the civilian world.
“If their spouse was chaptered due to domestic violence or the spouse had to exit the military due to some type of domestic violence or child abuse, they can file for TC,” she said. “If their application is approved, the adult will receive $1, 254.17 per month. Each child receives $310.17 per month. This is good for three years.”
The money can be used for anything from going back to school to helping out with housing said Fulton-Bolger.
“It’s not enough to pay for everything, but it does help,” she said. “If an applicant is approved, they will also have continued access to the Main Post Exchange, commissary, hospital and social services if needed.”
This is a wonderful program, said Fulton-Bolger, because many victims, who would otherwise have nothing to go back to, can use that financial aid to get back on their feet.
“A lot of these clients don’t have high school diplomas or college credits. They married to get out of a bad situation, and now they are separated and don’t want to go back home. Initially, these victims have no idea where they are going to go, can’t get a job and have no plans for the future,” she said. “If you have three children and work for minimum wage, where are you going to put those kids when you work because you can’t afford child care? Not to mention, if you have to work, how are you going to go to school to learn the skills to get a better job? They need this money to help them transition.”
Fulton-Bolger said many victims don’t report their spouse because they don’t want him to be chaptered.
“The problem is their spouse has to be chaptered due to domestic or child abuse to be eligible for transitional compensation,” she said. “We can only help the people that come in and report. I would say that for every person that reports, there are two or three out there that are suffering in silence.”
In the time that Fulton-Bolger has been in charge of the Transitional Compensation Program, 22 adult victims and 46 child victims have been helped.
The Fort Polk Victim Advocacy Program staff is comprised of four advocates and a coordinator. They are required to have a degree in a human health science related field and at a minimum, two years of experience working in the domestic/family violence field.
Victim advocates are on call to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, according to Mosby. Fort Polk’s Victim Advocacy Program domestic violence hotline is (337) 424-7494.