Some 43 years later, a local woman still dealing with the trauma of rape says the pandemic added to her struggles. A new program through the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System is helping her and others cope.”I was 19 when I enlisted. It was 1979. I did my basic training in Orlando, Florida, while I was in basic training. I was a survivor of military sexual trauma,” Margaret Hill-Grigson said. It may have been over 40 years ago, but Hill-Grigson still harbors the pain of being raped while in the Navy.”There’s no part of one’s life that being raped doesn’t affect,” she said.Hill-Grigson said, at that time, her concerns were dismissed, and she was later discharged prior to finishing her enlistment. Now a disabled vet with PTSD, she attends survivor groups, knits and gardens to stay mentally healthy. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, she isolated and spiraled back into depression.”I tended to be isolated simply out of a desire for safety. This simply compounded that,” she said.Fortunately for her, the VA Maryland Health Care System started a new program called VA Connection Plans to help veterans through the difficult time. The program uses a holistic approach to physical, mental and social wellbeing.”You have an initial meeting with one of our interventionists and they get to know the veteran and identify what’s really important to them, as far as challenges that they’re facing and priorities for their wellbeing. Then they co-create goals, so at least one body, mind and social connection goal,” research health scientist Samantha Hack said.Hill-Grigson started knitting, gardening and socializing again.”You need to be taken out of your comfort zone to enter the world again. Even if it’s not in person, you can still expand out again on a Zoom meeting with friends again or by getting on the phone or by going out and playing in the mud in your garden,” she said.The VA Maryland Health Care System started the program in December 2020. There are 40 veterans enrolled. As for Hill-Grigson, she said the program is slowly helping her get back to herself.Veterans who would like to participate in the Connection Plans Project should call 443-421-6270.