In 2012, 52,823 women and 32,651 men sought outpatient treatment for physical or mental health problems related to military sexual trauma (MST). A documentary last year, The Invisible War, and an apparent increase in the number of sexual assaults reported this year, have focused attention once again on the issue of rape in the military.
Although the renewed conversation has focused mostly on investigations and prosecutions by the Department of Defense, there is growing interest in reforming the way veterans disability claims for MST are handled. Unfortunately, this interest has not yet translated into changes in the law and in regulations governing how disability claims arising from MST are handled.
Legislation in the House requiring the VA to relax evidentiary standards passed only when that provision was removed. A bill currently pending in the Senate has more teeth. It would allow a veteran's testimony in addition to documentation from a mental health professional to serve as proof of a service-related physical or mental impairment caused by sexual trauma.
The goal of the reform, according to advocacy groups, is to put MST claims on the same footing as claims for combat-related PTSD. In 2010, the VA relaxed rules that required vets to provide certain types of evidence that their PTSD diagnosis was the result of a specific event. The bill pending in the Senate would accomplish this.
Until the law changes, the VA has developed procedures to help victims of MST develop the documentation required to support their claims for disability benefits. Testimony from family members, requests for reassignment, proof of mental health counselling and other types of evidence can be substituted for official military records.
This has resulted in a significant improvement in the number of MST claims approved, from 34 percent as of June 2011 to 53 percent in February 2013. However, there is still a ways to go. The VA approves 59 percent of all combat-related PTSD disability claims, but grants benefits to fewer vets filing MST-related claims - 53 percent.
If you are having problems with your claim for veterans disability benefits related to MST, get help today. Do what many other vets have done: Call the VA-accredited claims agents at The Rep for Vets®. Tell them your story and find out how they can help.
Source: Government Executive, "Reforming How VA Handles Sexual Assault Claims," Aug. 1, 2013.