Susie Hill - Specialist, Telecommunications, U.S. Women's Army Corps
A perfect storm of an unpaid traffic citation, a stolen purse, an empty gas tank on a rainy highway, and subsequent arrest for hitchhiking when a police officer spotted her accepting a ride from a Good Samaritan, all combined with the salesmanship of her Air Force brother’s military recruiter friend and 19-year-old Susie found herself enlisted in the Army in 1973. “I think also somewhere in the back of my feeble little mind, I thought I could do something to help with the war – since it was Vietnam and my brothers were both going to be there.”
Susie was assigned to Fort McClellan for U.S. Women’s Army Corps (WACs) Basic Training. She arrived young, healthy and fit after eight years on the local swim team – maxing out on her physical fitness and academic tests. During the course of her training at Fort McClellan, Susie began experiencing bouts of severe fatigue.
She pushed through Basic Training and moved on to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for Telecommunications at Fort Gordon. While at Fort Gordon she endured sexual harassment, ongoing fatigue and an inexplicable bout of the measles – she had already had the measles as a child. Next, stop was her duty station, where fatigue followed her and she came down with Mononucleosis. To add to her troubles, she was also only the 9thwoman - among 3200 men - to be stationed at her post, a Pershing Missile site in Germany, and she experienced severe harassment and military sexual trauma (MST).
After two years of very challenging and stressful military service – hers is a complex and painful story similar to the stories of many Women’s Army Corps veterans - Susie received an honorable discharge. A week after leaving the service, Susie sought help at her local VA clinic for the symptoms that continued to plague her. She was told that she was not eligible for treatment because she didn’t have a service connected disability. She walked out of the clinic and began a 35-year journey of working for companies like IBM and Sprint through illness, exhaustion and memory problems in order to pay her medical bills and support herself. She says she has never been able to stay ahead of the bills. Finally, a day arrived when she picked up a manual she had written for her company and was unable to understand what it said. She knew she could no longer put off what she had avoided for some time. She quit working and went on Social Security disability.
Now, she talks about her sadness that her husband will lose their small house in southwest Florida if she dies before him - which she expects to given her health. It takes both their incomes to maintain the house and she is unable to obtain more than a $10,000 life insurance policy because of her medical history. “It’s a very sad way to live. He’s put his heart and soul into this little house, knowing that the day I kick, he’s out of there.”
Susie lists her medical issues to include: A majority of the symptoms of exposure to the military herbicide, Agent Orange; IBS; chronic fatigue; fibromyalgia; tremors; memory issues; diabetes; muscle pains; numbness in her legs; and brain lesions. Cysts in her spine and a full variety of other cysts in other areas of her body have required a variety of surgeries over the years. The severe pain she is having in her neck is thought to be the result of yet another cyst found there in a recent MRI. Susie says that she also has many of the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, but has not received a diagnosis for it, despite doctors’ suspicions of it and subsequent frequent testing. She’s had heart bypass surgery, a hysterectomy as a result of severe fibroids and endometriosis, and lost all her teeth. Susie currently takes 17 prescription medicines each morning in an effort to manage her symptoms.
The birth of Susie’s only child, a son, was difficult and an episiotomy was performed. She says that something went wrong in her body's healing process - leaving her with a hole in her colon that went undetected for some time. As a result of the four years of antibiotics used to treat the resulting infections, she describes her immune system as “shot”. Her son, born after her time at Fort McClellan, arrived 6 weeks premature at 4 lbs 8 oz. He has his own troubles, as well. At the age of 12 he suddenly complained of severe back pain. A quick trip to the hospital revealed dozens of stones in his young kidneys. He lives with frequent kidney stones to this day.
Susie stays active working to raise awareness of the plight of the veterans of Fort McClellan and is very frustrated and disgusted at the lack any acknowledgement or response from political leaders when she writes or visits their offices.