Military Sexual Trauma

Military Sexual Trauma as Defined by the VA

Military Sexual Trauma (MST), for VA purposes, is defined under Title 38, US Code 1720D as, “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.” Military Sexual Trauma is defined as any sexual activity to which a service-member was subjected against his or her will.  Military Sexual Trauma may derive from a number of experiences, including the following;

  • Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing
  • Threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities
  • Threatening and unwelcome sexual advances

How common is Military Sexual Trauma?

The Veteran’s Administration’s National Center on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) notes that as part of its national screening program every veteran is asked if he or she has experienced Military Sexual Trauma. 1 in 4 women veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans indicated that they had experienced sexual trauma during the course of their military service. Despite the fact that every Veteran’s Administration Medical Center (VAMC) now has MST response team coordinators and staff, there is still wide reticence on the part of many survivors to seek help due the stigma surrounding coming forward.

Military Sexual Trauma and Disability Benefits

From the stand-point of the Veteran’s Administration, Military Sexual Trauma is “an experience, not a diagnosis”. However, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depression and other mental health diagnoses may stem directly from the experience of having been sexually assaulted and under those diagnoses a veteran may file for service-connected disability compensation.

Unequal Results in the VA Disability Process for MST Survivors

In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a report entitled, “Battle for Benefits, VA Discrimination against Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma”  noted that for every year between 2008-2012 the rates of disability benefits approval for PTSD from Sexual Trauma, as opposed to other traumatic events, in the military were considerably lower, ranging from 16.5% to 29.5% less each year.

This represents a fundamental and great injustice to our veterans. The enduring legacy of sexual trauma and the stigma involved make navigating the VA system extremely difficult. For that reason it is highly advisable to seek the guidance of a professional advocate, if you do not already one, following denial for compensation for a PTSD or other mental health diagnoses related to Military Sexual Trauma.

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