How to Get VA Disability After Military Sexual Trauma

How to Get VA Disability After Military Sexual Trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST) is broadly defined as sexual assault or harassment perpetrated in military service. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon, and many who experience this harm may fail to understand that they can seek VA benefits for MST.

You may have many questions about how a VA claim for military sexual trauma works or your options if the VA denied your previous claim.

We at Berry Law serve Veterans and their families in the fight to obtain the full range of benefits you deserve. Our Veterans law attorneys have worked diligently for decades, upholding the rights of heroes like you. If you have a matter to discuss regarding your VA claim, contact us at once for more information and a free consultation with our lawyers.

Military Sexual Trauma and Its Effects on Veterans

Widespread sexual violence in all areas of society is no secret. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that roughly one in three women and one in four men will experience some form of unwanted sexual contact or sexual violence in their lifetimes. However, among service members, these numbers frequently go unreported, potentially to the tune of 70 percent of cases. 

The common symptoms Veterans experience following MST include: 

  • Upsetting memories, thoughts, and dreams related to the event
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of detachment or numbness
  • Isolation
  • Negative self-image or poor self-esteem
  • Difficulties with sleep 
  • The use of alcohol or illicit substances as a coping mechanism 
  • Physical health problems 
  • PTSD

In addition, those who experience MST are statistically more likely to experience sexual trauma after their military service ends, leading to the potential for compounded traumatic experiences that require longer recovery periods and more resources to heal from.

Those who serve in armed combat are also more likely to experience MST, meaning that they may face additional traumatic stressors and have more lingering side effects.

For all these reasons and more, we believe Veterans need access to the benefits they deserve following military service. Your future and your health depend on it.

Improving VA Benefits for Veterans Who Experienced MST

The prevalence of military sexual trauma is likely much higher than once believed. As such, efforts to increase awareness of this trauma and expand benefits for Veterans who have faced it have greatly increased.

In 2021, Congress passed the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act (H.R. 5666), expanding health care and benefits related to sexual assault, battery, and harassment and providing more avenues for Veterans to pursue a service connection for other specified conditions based on MST.   

Following decades of uphill congressional battles and hundreds of provisions and amendments, our nation’s service members receive more benefits than ever before.

Our framework for understanding offenses like sexual assault is far from perfect, but it grants Veterans the ability to pursue hard-earned benefits that more accurately encompass the challenges they’ve faced and the resources to experience improved quality of life following the grave nature of these affronts.

How to Get VA Disability and Improve Your VA Rating for Military Sexual Trauma 

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize military sexual trauma in itself as a disability but rather as an event. However, it can and will acknowledge the link between military sexual trauma and conditions or illnesses that directly result from these experiences.

The most common MST-based claims involve a connection to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, depending on the nature of your symptoms and any comorbidities that arose from your military sexual trauma, you may pursue a claim based on other criteria.

For example, if you receive a diagnosis of a sleep-related disorder or develop a dependency on prescription medication to treat this comorbid issue that arose as a result of MST, the VA may evaluate your claim under a separate condition. As such, the VA acknowledges that a service connection may exist between MST and illnesses or conditions that affect either the body, mind, or both.

Evidence Supporting Your VA Claim

As of 2002, the VA has relaxed its standards for determining evidence of both PTSD and MST. As such, those whose claims the VA denied should call a qualified VA representative at Berry Law to see if they can reapply.

Currently, the VA’s guidelines on submitting evidence for a VA disability compensation claim related to military sexual trauma require: 

  • A current physical or mental condition that affects your body or mind
  • An event, injury, or illness that happened during service
  • A link between your current disability and the event, injury, or disease that happened during your military service.

The VA acknowledges that, due to the high prevalence of underreporting and the sensitive nature of this topic, evidence of direct service connection between MST and the conditions that arise from it may not exist.

Consequently, the evidentiary requirements that link the current disability or illness with the event are called markers, or the signs that circumstantially support your claim.

Unlike other VA claims, these markers may exist outside official military documentation and, instead, through other sources that may or may not have a direct link to your service records.

Markers of Military Sexual Trauma

As the effects of military sexual trauma are myriad, so are the potential sources used to corroborate its occurrence.

Some of these markers include: 

  • Police records
  • Documentation from rape crisis centers, hospitals, or healthcare providers
  • Statements from counselors or therapists
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Medical records indicating sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs)
  • Statements from individuals who are close to you, including family members, roommates, other Veterans, or clergy members
  • Requests for transfer to another military duty assignment
  • Records indicating a decline in work performance
  • Evidence demonstrating substance abuse
  • Negative changes in mental health
  • Difficulties in relationships and social life, including conflict with significant others or divorce
  • Diagnosis of sexual dysfunction

A qualified Veterans disability attorney can determine what other evidentiary sources you might use when appealing your VA claim and what information the VA might require should you reapply or take your denial to a higher court.

Filing a VA Disability Benefits Claim for PTSD in Connection to MST

To begin the process of filing a claim, you’ll first want to reach out to your regional VA office and potentially your regional military sexual trauma coordinator.

You can accomplish this first step through:

  • The VA eBenefits website
  • Mail or fax; and
  • In-Person

To submit your claim, you’ll need to include the following elements: 

Collect and submit as much information as possible. The process of filing an application for VA benefits can confuse you. However, should you require assistance navigating a denial of benefits or pursuing an appeal, qualified legal representation can take your case, inform you of your rights, and pursue recourse.

Specialized Coordination for MST Claims and How it Affects Your VA Benefits

Beginning in 2011, the VA has worked to centralize the processing of claims related to military sexual trauma to improve both efficiency and consistency in its approval ratings. As a result, according to the United States Government Accountability Office, between 2011 and 2014, the gap between the rate of claim denials for military sexual trauma and other stressors shrank considerably.

However, these rates still vary widely between regional offices. Accordingly, further centralization of MST claims has seen their processing relocated to fewer offices, where more specialized training and employees are better equipped to handle the high volume of these disability benefits claims.

As a result, we can expect a higher number of claims related to military sexual trauma, PTSD, and other related psychiatric conditions to be approved and receive a higher VA rating. However, in the meantime, Veterans like you can expect to face obstacles. Fortunately, our lawyers will work hard to maximize your access to the benefits you deserve. 

Reach Out to a Veterans Disability Benefits Attorney at Berry Law

If the VA denied your claim or you received a lower disability rating than expected, reach out to a Veterans benefits attorney to learn what steps you can take.
At Berry Law, we pride ourselves in championing the rights of Veterans and their families and seeking the best outcomes for their VA disability claims. If you have questions about increasing your VA rating, appealing a denial, or whether you qualify for total disability, contact our experienced team for a free consultation with our lawyers. We are Veterans Serving Veterans across the country, and we are eager to speak with you about your VA claim today.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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