Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is the term used by VA to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced by veterans while in military service. Men and women can both have experienced harassment or assault and suffer from MST, and because of this, a number of benefits are offered for free by VA. It is important to note that these free services make up a separate and distinct form of assistance from disability compensation. The differences between the two forms of assistance are discussed below.
Another important point about these free services is that they are not only available to honorably discharged veterans. Current service members, as well as service members with less-than-honorable discharges, are just as welcome to use these services.
The barriers to accessing these recovery services are low compared to other conditions, since proof of MST may be difficult, or downright impossible, to provide. Stigma is also one reason why MST may go unreported or untreated, so it’s vital for VA to encourage those who are suffering to seek assistance. You don’t need a service-connected disability, you don’t need proof that it happened, and you don’t need to have reported that it happened.
What is MST?
VA refers to MST as “any sexual activity that you are involved with against your will,” and offers the following examples:
- Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment in exchange for sex
- Someone having sexual contact with you without your consent, such as when you were asleep or intoxicated
- Being physically forced to have sex
- Being touched in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable
- Repeated comments about your body or sexual activities
- Threatening and unwanted sexual advances
MST can have significant mental and physical repercussions. It can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. According to VA, veterans suffering from MST may experience the following:
- Disturbing memories or nightmares
- Difficulty feeling safe
- Feelings of depression or numbness
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs
- Feeling isolated from other people
- Problems with anger, irritability, or other strong emotions
- Issues with sleep
- Physical health problems
What Benefits are Available?
VA offers a number of free services to help veterans in their recovery from MST. Every VA medical facility offers treatment and support with specialized staff. They also offer outpatient services for sexual trauma, professional counseling, and residential or inpatient treatment — including gender-specific programs — for more intensive care. Outpatient services are also provided through VA’s community-based Vet Centers.
If you begin to suffer from any related conditions, such as PTSD, substance abuse, or depression, the VA also offers services to treat them. Services include psychological assessment and evaluation, medication evaluation and treatment, and individual and group psychotherapy.
Throughout your treatment, you are assisted by an MST coordinator specifically trained in MST sensitivity and awareness. Whether you are seeking free assistance for health services and counseling, or are pursuing a claim for disability, you are promised support from VA staff with specialized knowledge on this MST claims process.
Ways to access free treatment services for MST include:
- Notifying your VA primary care provider, who has undergone mandatory training on MST and can offer a referral and treatment options.
- Speaking with the MST coordinator at your nearest VA medical center. You may choose to speak with someone of a specific gender to increase your comfort.
- Requesting treatment from a community-based Vet Center, if you prefer to receive your care outside of a medical setting.
- Contacting the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans or your local VA Community Resource and Referral Center if you are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Can You Collect Disability Compensation?
First, let it be clear that you may be able to receive disability compensation as a result of MST, but MST is not the condition for which you file your claim. MST itself is not eligible for disability compensation. It is not a diagnosable medical condition, and you are not able to get disability compensation for specific events of sexual harassment or trauma.
However, it is possible to get disability compensation for a related medical condition if that condition was caused, or worsened, by your MST. If you have developed PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or substance abuse as a result of your MST, you may be able to prove a service-connection and be rewarded disability compensation.
If you plan to make a claim for disability compensation based on one of these conditions, you must present a strong case with sufficient evidence to prove a service connection, which is above and beyond what you need to do if you only seek the free services provided by VA.
Recommended evidence to support an MST-related claim includes a Department of Defense (DoD) sexual assault or harassment form and investigative reports completed during military service. If you are suffering from PTSD or other mental health conditions, indirect sources of evidence can help strengthen your claim by presenting clues, if not definitive evidence, of the effects of a traumatic incident or series of incidents. VA may seek a medical opinion to investigate the connection between your evidence, MST, and current condition, but nevertheless, examples of evidence include:
- Work performance changes, relationship issues, requests for transfer, and other social or economic behaviors concurrent with the incident(s)
- Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, sexual dysfunction, or substance abuse
- Journal and diary entries
- Pregnancy test and sexually transmitted disease tests
- Official records from civilian healthcare personnel, law enforcement, or crisis centers for rape or domestic abuse
- Statements from others, including chaplains or clergy, counselors, faculty, family, service members, and roommates
Assistance with Your Claim
MST is a serious topic that can lead to great mental and physical suffering. Veterans suffering from MST and related conditions are strongly encouraged to utilize VA’s free counseling and support services, even if you don’t expect to collect disability compensation. MST can happen to veterans of any gender, and its effects may start right after the traumatic event, or years later.
If you’re struggling to get the support you need from VA, or you believe you deserve disability compensation for a condition related to MST, you can contact us at 844-VET-LAWS or fill out our contact form online.