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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


Women's Trauma Recovery Program (WTRP)

A group of women sitting in a circle In 1992, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened the National Women's Trauma Recovery Program (WTRP) as part of the National Center for PTSD at Menlo Park, CA. The WTRP, designed to treat women Veterans, active duty service members, National Guard, and Reservists with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is the first residential program of its kind and is open to women across the country. Many of the women who are referred to the program have experienced traumas that include but are not limited to military sexual trauma (MST), combat trauma, and training accidents.

The WTRP is an intensive residential program with a strong emphasis on enhancing interpersonal functioning through psycho-education and skill building classes. Classes focus on the development of coping skills, such as emotion regulation, relapse prevention, anxiety management and effective communication. Residents practice these skills with one another and out in the community on weekend passes. They work together to problem-solve, learn effective coping strategies to better manage their symptoms, and utilize each other for support. Community members have opportunities to make observations and provide each other with feedback that can assist residents in making important changes and improving their quality of life.

A group of women sitting in a circle Women are admitted to the program via a rolling admissions process so that there are always senior community members available to support newer members. Each resident is assigned to a "big sister" who serves to answer questions, offer support, and provide relevant information about the program, which is particularly helpful in the early stages of a newer member's treatment. The length of stay in the WTRP varies in accordance with each individual's needs, but typically lasts approximately 60 days; shorter lengths of stay may be recommended. Longer lengths of stay generally are associated with participation in a Cognitive Processing Therapy Group.

Directly addressing trauma issues in this setting is an optional part of treatment and may not be recommended for all residents. This determination is made once the treatment team has an opportunity to assess individual residents' readiness. The interpersonal demands of the program can pose a challenge to women who have been extremely isolative and who find it particularly difficult to trust others. For those who appear unready for group treatment in the milieu setting, specific recommendations are made to both the applicant and referring clinician regarding what skills and experience are needed to better match the applicant's current treatment needs.

Women come to the program from across the nation, of all ages, and all walks of life. In our experience, there is no one defining characteristic of those who will do well in our program. Generally speaking, individuals who enter the program with at least some degree of willingness to commit to the process of recovery are able to make the most amount of progress towards their desired outcomes. More specifically, it is also clear to us that no one set of demographic factors, including specific type of trauma experienced, is a predictor of whether any one individual may benefit from the program. This is evidenced by the fact that in FY2014, 100% of residents surveyed at discharge from the program reported that the quality of care they received at the facility was very good or excellent and 100% of residents reported they would recommend this program to other Veterans if they needed treatment. Nonetheless, it may be helpful to review some general information about the individuals we serve in the hope that it can help an applicant better determine how likely it is that we have encountered individuals with similar characteristics.

In FY2014, the average age of our residents was 47 years, with ages ranging from 27-70. Ten percent of WTRP residents served in or during the Vietnam era, 7% were involved in Peace Keeping Missions, 31% served in Desert Storm, 3% served in OEF, and 34% served in OIF. Forty-five percent of women served in a war zone, and 93% reported experiencing MST. While the majority of the women served have experienced MST, many of the women have also experienced combat-related trauma either exclusively or in conjunction with MST. In the WTRP, 59% of residents identified themselves as White (not Hispanic), 10% African-American (not Hispanic), 7% Hispanic (White or African-American), 10% American Indian or Alaskan, 7% Pacific Islander, and 7% Asian.

Many arrive to the program carrying heavy emotional burdens and find that sharing these burdens with their peers aids in the healing and recovery process. Many leave the program more self-assured and ready to connect to society and loved ones. Their stories are real and often painful. In an effort to reach other women Veterans who need help, they’ve shared their stories with the world. Click the photos on the right side to read their stories and learn how the program has changed their lives.


Click the women's names to read their personal story: