Marilyn Rivera comes from three generations of family having served in the U.S. military. The path she took was very different than her father and grandfather, however, as she served as an Army Drill Instructor (DI).
Women in the military are more common today, unlike in the mid 1970’s. “If my male peers did 50 pushups, I did 75. If they ran a mile, I ran two. The pressure was tough as other DI’s watched to see if I would break,” said Rivera. “But I’m pleased to see the opportunities women are now being given in the military. There are no roles including combat that women should be excluded from,” Rivera added. She also wants to shed light on an old problem – sexual assault. Rivera didn’t expect to be fighting that kind of enemy, or have to learn how to deal with an assault and how it would affect the rest of her life. “I told my attacker I would be reporting what he did to my supervisor. He told me, ‘I’ll get to him before you do,’ and that is exactly what happened. I had to stuff it and go about my business,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s anger and fear festered over time and following her discharge came years of self-medicating and problems with law enforcement. “I had never dealt with it before and it was killing me. I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore and I sought help from the VA.” Rivera raves about the care she has received at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Florida. “The therapists have gotten me to open up about my experience. It feels good to finally get it out in the open,” she said. Rivera also credits her work on arts and crafts as part of her healing.
“When I work on the craft kits, my mind goes to a safe place. I am at peace, only thinking about completing the kit. Working on the kits also helps with dexterity because I have a painful condition called trigger finger.”
Rivera is grateful to national nonprofit organization Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV) for the arts and crafts they provide. “I have completed dozens of kits over the years and they are a godsend. I am so thankful to the people who donate to these kits. They have helped me both physically and mentally.” Rivera is also relieved that the issue of sexual assault in the military is finally being addressed. “Having this come into the light of day makes me feel that I can finally breathe again,” she said.
Since 1971, HHV has donated almost 29 million therapeutic arts & crafts kits for veteran and military medical patients worldwide. For more information about programs available, visit HHV.org.