Military sexual trauma, often referred to as MST, is a bigger problem than a lot of people think. Many people are also surprised to learn that MST victims are both women and men.
Most of my clients say they felt mortified by the MST and some say they also stayed silent because they were told by the perpetrators that they’d be attacked again or killed if they said anything. A lot of MST victims often try to forget what happened and don’t tell anyone for many years after their military discharge. One of my clients said he felt too scared to say anything about his trauma for decades after his discharge because he worried his attackers might discover that he told someone about it and seek him out.
I have handled many cases involving veterans who have been sexually assaulted or attacked in service and their mental health is often damaged to the point where, understandably, they can never fully recover. Many of these veterans are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder or depression and most have problems with nightmares, flashbacks, isolation, having healthy relationships, and many other difficult issues. Some veterans have problems trusting others or don’t feel safe or comfortable in public, which can make working and having an income very difficult.
Veterans can apply for VA disability compensation benefits if the MST caused them to have mental health problems. What many don’t understand, even some people at the VA, is that claims for MST related mental health conditions are supposed to be treated differently than claims for other mental health conditions.
The veteran still needs a diagnosis and a “nexus” (meaning a doctor or medical professional must connect the diagnosis with the MST). However, the VA has made the third part of getting a VA compensation application approved – proving that the incident in service happened – easier for MST victims.
The VA made it less difficult for MST victims because the VA realized a soldier who has been sexually attacked or assaulted may be deeply embarrassed or ashamed by what happened and cannot bring themselves to report it. That would mean there are no records of it.
The VA made it easier for MST victims by allowing them to use a wide variety of ways to prove the incident happened. Examples of acceptable evidence includes buddy statements from fellow soldiers who saw the victim during or after the attack or who the veteran confided in about it, family members who know about it, and military records that show the veteran requested a change of station or duty (in order to get away from the perpetrator). The veteran can also point to medical records that document he or she sought treatment for a physical injury caused by the attack or for stress related issues like headaches or insomnia. Another good source of proof are disciplinary records that show a change in behavior after the attack, like drinking, fighting, or going AWOL.
Additionally, a court case determined that a mental health professional’s opinion that the sexual assault occurred can be used to establish that it did in fact happen. This case has been hugely helpful to veterans who suffered from MST and are seeking disability benefits.
For veterans who are trying to get disability benefits for MST, or for those who are trying to help veterans with this process, it helps to know how these claims are supposed to be handled by the VA. A lot of veterans contact me and say their claim was denied because they don’t have proof that the MST happened. But in most cases there IS proof it happened – you just need to know what the rules are for these claims and what evidence to look for.