The U.S. Committee on Veterans Affairs recently issued a press release introducing a bill to expand the definition of military sexual trauma (MST) to include cyber harassment. This bill formed in the wake of reports of nude photos of female service members being posted on Facebook and other websites without the service members’ knowledge or consent. The bill, if enacted into law, would allow victims of online sexual harassment access to VA counseling and benefits.
This bill covers new technology, but sexual harassment or assault has been recognized by the military for decades.
The current definition of MST is found under 38 U.S.C. § 1720D:
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.
Sexual harassment includes repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.
Some examples of MST include being pressured into sexual activities (i.e., threats of negative consequences for refusing to provide sexual favors or with implied better treatment in exchange for sex), being unable to consent to sexual activities (i.e., when intoxicated), being physically forced into sexual activities, unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances.
Often, victims of military sexual trauma develop mental health conditions such as PTSD or major depressive disorder. They typically do not talk about it right away with anyone for fear of retaliation or humiliation.
Both men and women are victimized by MST. The VA website indicates that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men reported that they had experienced MST.
If you have been the victim of MST and failed to talk to someone about it during service, you are not alone. And it is still possible to get VA disability benefits for the conditions or disabilities you experience as a result of the MST.
In particular, for those dealing with PTSD as a result of an in-service personal assault, evidence from sources other than the veteran’s service records may corroborate the veteran’s account of the stressor incident.
This evidence would include records from law enforcement and crisis centers, any instances of sexually transmitted diseases, and statements from family members, friends or clergy. It would also include evidence of behavior changes such as request for duty transfer, deterioration in work performance and substance abuse.
If you filed a claim for military sexual trauma and received an inadequate rating from the VA, you have the right to appeal. Berry Law Firm has been working with veterans throughout the Unites States for decades, guiding clients through the appeals process. If you are appealing a VA decision, please contact us online today.