There can be lifelong physical, mental, and/or emotional health struggles for those who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST). Yet the harsh reality of how these incidents and claims are handled is unsettling: In a 2017 report on claims related to MST by the Department of Veteran Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIC), the results were sobering: in a mere six-month period, over 1,300 veterans (the vast majority of which were women) were refused benefits related to military sexual trauma. Read the full report here.
What Makes Military Sexual Trauma Difficult to “Prove”?
In some cases, the victim does not report the incident right away, if at all. There are a multitude of reasons for this, as we discussed in last week’s post here. In some instances, the victim thinks they will “deal with this” on their own, not realizing that there are likely going to be lifelong struggles that either come and go, or crop up down the road, from experiencing this trauma.
If the military sexual trauma incident did not leave physical evidence, no one else witnessed it, or the victim did not get physical evidence documented by a medical professional, this also makes reporting and claiming benefits related to MST more difficult.
In 2011, the VA changed their policy to direct claims officials to take a “liberal approach” to processing and documenting military sexual trauma incidents and claims. The goal behind this was to make it easier for those who had suffered from military sexual trauma to report, provide evidence and proof, and receive benefits. Despite the liberal approach policy, many claims are denied and victims are not given the full benefits and attention they deserve.
How Does the VA Rate Military Sexual Trauma?
The VA does not have individualized military sexual trauma ratings and benefits. They recognize that MST often causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other mental and emotional health struggles and ailments. A claim can be filed for a health condition that is because of, or related to, the military sexual trauma. PTSD is one of the most common results of experiencing military sexual trauma that the VA will compensate for, and is the 3rd most common veteran disability. Visit our PTSD blog post here.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), to be diagnosed with PTSD, an individual must have the following for at least 1 month:
- At least 1 Avoidance Symptom: Avoidance symptoms include staying away from events, people, or things that are reminders of the traumatic experience, or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the experience.
- At least 1 Re-Experiencing Symptom: Re-Experiencing Symptoms include flashbacks, physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, bad dreams, and/or disturbing or frightening thoughts.
- At least 2 Cognition and Mood Symptoms: Cognition and Mood Symptoms include loss of interest in activities, distorted feelings of guilt, loss, blame, negative thoughts about themselves or the world, difficulty remembering features of the event, and feeling emotionally numb. These symptoms generally make the individual feel disconnected from friends, family, and society.
- At least 2 Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms: Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms include having difficulty sleeping, being on edge or more tense, easily startled, and angry or uncharacteristic outbursts.
The VA rates mental health conditions under one umbrella. In next week’s post, we will break down the chart and rating percentages, but you can view the VA’s 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Ratings here.
Filing a Military Sexual Trauma Disability Claim
Though instances of this type of trauma can look very different by individual, the process for a successful disability claim is the same. The individual filing will need:
- A current mental or physical condition or ailment that is affecting your mind and/or body; and
- An event, illness, or injury that occurred during time in the service (the actual incident(s) of military sexual trauma); and
- A medical nexus- getting the current condition or ailment linked to the event, illness or injury that occurred.
These additional items are also extremely helpful and provide support when submitting a MST-related claim:
- Service medical or personnel report that documents the occurrence of military sexual trauma incident or event
- Department of Defense (DOD) sexual assault or harassment reporting form;
- Form 2910 “Victim Reporting Preference Statement”
- Any reports that were completed during military service regarding the military sexual trauma
PTSD Specific For Increased Claim Success
If filing for PTSD as a result of MST, veterans can submit alternative sources of evidence and statements for a higher likelihood of claim approval. These sources of evidence can help link the event to current illnesses or ailments, and corroborate the occurrence of MST. Some of the sources this evidence can come from include:
- Rape crisis center
- Center for domestic abuse
- Pastor, clergy member or chaplain
- Family members
- Counseling personnel
- Health clinic
- Civilian police reports
- Other service members
- Medical reports from civilian healthcare workers who saw or treated the individual following the incident(s)
- Diaries, journals, personal accounts written down
This is a Lot to Take In- I Need Support!
We agree. MST is happening far too often, and the aftermath is devastating to those who experience it. Our next post will help guide those who have suffered to resources they can access, even if they don’t have a disability claim.
Need immediate help? Don’t wait- get to a safe place, away from an assailant. We encourage you to report, collect evidence, and document everything. Call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline and talk to someone now – 1-800.656.HOPE (4673).