What Is Military Sexual Trauma?
The VA uses the term Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service. Examples of MST include everything from unwanted touching, to being pressured into sex by a person in your chain of command, to aggravated sexual assault or rape.
How Prevalent Is Military Sexual Trauma?
According to the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study, 32.4% of female veterans and 4.8% of male veterans reported being sexually assaulted while on active duty. Given the retaliation that service members who report sexual assaults face, those numbers are likely higher. The study also connected MST with higher rates of major depressive disorder, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder in veterans.
How Does the VA Handle MST?
The short answer is: slightly better than it used to. With increased public scrutiny of sexual assault in the military, the VA has had to change the way it deals with MST-related benefits claims — by actually dealing with them. Every VA health care system now has an MST Coordinator, who is there to help veterans access Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) services and mental health support. Since 2015, over a million outpatient visits a year have taken place at the VA for MST-related care.
Military Sexual Trauma Is a Service-Connected Cause of PTSD
Government researchers have found that PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and substance abuse are all associated with MST and can thus be service-connected. When a disability is “service-connected”, that means the veteran is eligible for disability compensation payments from the VA, as well as other medical benefits. Military Sexual Trauma can have just as profound and lasting an impact on a veteran’s life as other causes of PTSD
The VA recognizes MST as a service-connected ‘stressor’ event that can cause PTSD, a benefits-eligible condition. What that means in layman’s terms is that a veteran who has been victimized and suffers from PTSD is entitled to receive compensation in the form of monthly disability payments.
To be clear, the government does not consider MST itself to be the disabling condition, for the reason that not all service members who endure MST go on to develop disabilities such as PTSD.
What Is PTSD and Who Develops It?
PTSD is a survival mechanism, but the high adrenaline levels and stress hormones produced by the body can lead to changes in brain chemistry and the most telling symptoms of PTSD, which are:
- Hypervigilance and generalized anxiety disorder
- Flashbacks and panic attacks
- Avoidance of social situations that could be triggering
- Anger management issues
- Thoughts of self-harm
As recent reports in the Military Times and other national publications have shown, the retaliation and silencing that often occurs when sexual crimes are reported can be worse than the sexual assault or harassment itself. There may also be genetic factors that are not yet fully understood by scientists.
If you have a history of depression and anxiety, or you weren’t believed when you told family, friends or colleagues about the traumatic event, or your experience was downplayed or dismissed, you’re more susceptible to developing PTSD.
For more information on how the VA deals with PTSD claims and what resources are available to veterans, please take a look at our PTSD overview page and related articles.
Non-Combat Stressors and PTSD
Growing public awareness of PTSD, and mental health in general, has made it easier for veterans seeking compensation for MST-caused PSTD. Previously, PTSD was only recognized as an outcome of combat operations, but that has changed. The VA now acknowledges that non-combat stressors, including Military Sexual Trauma, can cause PTSD.
Mental health experts know that it can take a long time, sometimes years, for symptoms of PTSD to show up to the extent that they disrupt a veteran’s basic functioning. You may have developed PTSD symptoms long after your time in service, or were afraid to come forward at the time you experienced the trauma — that shouldn’t stop you from seeking benefits. It’s never too late to report a sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence. If your PTSD symptoms make it difficult for you to work, you should be getting veterans disability benefits like any other veteran who suffers from PTSD.
Moving Forward from Military Sexual Trauma
You signed up to defend our country and ended up having to defend yourself against unwanted advances, sexual assault or even rape. Your whole life may have been changed as a result of this traumatic experience. You may be finding it difficult to work, concentrate, and have a fulfilling social life.
You may also be struggling with the long-lasting physical health impacts of PTSD or substance abuse. You are going to need all the support you can get. We urge you to use all the resources available to get the emotional, medical, and financial assistance you need to become a survivor.
Receiving VA benefits for MST can assist a survivor by providing therapy services and monetary assistance to help you regain some control over your life. Telling your story can also help relieve some of the burden you carry.
We encourage veterans to use all the tools at their disposal on their healing path, but understand the risks involved in the disability claims process. Speaking to an experienced and compassionate VA-certified claims agent about the process may help alleviate some of your concerns.
MST Claim Denied?
If the VA has denied your MST benefits claim, take a deep breath. You still have options. The denial letter should give a reason why the claim was denied, such as lack of evidence, so be sure to hang on to that letter.
Attaining VA benefits for MST may seem like an uphill battle, but the VA actually has less strict evidence requirements for MST-based claims compared to other disability claims. And if you prevail, it’s worth it. A single veteran with no dependents who is unable to work due to MST-related PTSD receives $1,754 a month in VA disability benefits in 2022.
Here at the Rep for Vets, we are sensitive to the complexities of PTSD/MST claims. We believe our veteran survivors of MST, and are prepared to help you take the next step on your healing journey. Give us a call at (888) 573-7838 today to discuss your claim, or fill out the quick online form to schedule a free consultation today.