The US military is supposed to uphold a high code of conduct, and its members are supposed to practice high standards of honor. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Thousands of Veterans are subject to unwanted sexual harassment or sexual assault yearly.
If you or a loved one served in the US military and were the victim of a military sexual assault/military sexual trauma, you could be compensated by the VA. Read on to learn how to win a military MST claim and what that entails.
Military sexual trauma (MST) is any unwanted sexual activity against another person, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.
According to the VA, military sexual trauma includes psychological trauma that results from a physical assault of a sexual nature, sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was on active duty or in training, or battery of a sexual nature.
Meanwhile, the VA classifies sexual harassment as repeated and unsolicited physical or verbal contact of a sexual nature which is also threatening in character.
Any unwanted sexual contact or activity counts as MST, not just rape or sexual assault. Some examples of MST include:
If you experience MST in the military and develop or aggravate a condition or injury as a result, you may qualify for VA disability benefits.
According to the VA, MST is most commonly associated with various mental health disorders and issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and more.
For example, if you experience sexual assault in the military and develop PTSD because of that incident, your PTSD is automatically service-connected. That’s because your PTSD would not have developed were it not for your military service. Because of this, the VA may provide you with compensation benefits to pay for ongoing medical care and other side effects, such as difficulties keeping a job.
You may qualify for disability compensation for MST if:
The most common example is PTSD. If you develop PTSD in the aftermath of military sexual trauma, you will qualify for disability compensation for the PTSD itself. You cannot get compensation for MST – it’s only available for the injuries or conditions it may cause. Your compensation depends on the conditions you developed because of your MST and their severity.
To make a successful military sexual trauma claim, you’ll need to complete the following steps:
Like other disability benefits claims, you’ll need to provide substantial evidence for the VA to award you with monthly benefits and additional support resources.
To properly support any MST claim, you must prove three key elements:
The first element requires a detailed diagnosis from a currently licensed mental healthcare provider. As an example, if you have PTSD because of MST, and your psychiatrist has diagnosed your PTSD, you will fulfill the first criteria to win your military MST claim.
The second element requires you to prove that an incident or injury occurred while you were serving in the military. This may involve gathering various service records, lay statements from personnel or servicemembers who witnessed the event, etc. You must prove that the event happened and plausibly contributed to your mental health disorder or other condition.
The third element must include a doctor’s note or opinion stating that your current condition or disability was likely or definitely caused by the military incident. If you don’t yet have a doctor or mental health care practitioner, get one immediately. The more evidence you can bring to the table for your MST claim, the better.
When you file an MST claim for disability benefits, you’ll need to provide a lot of substantiating evidence both to maximize your disability rating and to receive a successful verdict in the first place.
Unfortunately, many Veterans who experience MST don’t feel confident reporting it for fear of reprisal or other reasons. This can make it difficult for them to gather and provide evidence to the VA.
Potential evidence you can provide includes:
As you can see from the above evidence examples, you can provide both medical evidence and evidence of behavioral change in yourself to prove that you experienced MST. Behavioral changes may be sufficient evidence to prove that you experienced military sexual trauma if the changes cannot be explained by any other behavior, such as another injury or social changes like a divorce.
Veterans law attorneys can help you determine what evidence is best for your disability benefits claim and ensure that you file your claim correctly without any errors. Furthermore, they can help you find the best ways to present this evidence to the VA by writing down journal entries, collecting lay statements from people who know you, and more.
Many instances of military sexual trauma are difficult to prove, if not impossible. People can lie, perpetrators may have friends that cover up their behavior, and people may not believe the victim of MST for one reason or another. In these circumstances, the VA may not believe your claim that you suffered military sexual trauma, and your claim may be denied.
If your claim is denied, the fight is not over. Veterans law attorneys can provide you with substantial support in various ways. For instance, they can review your claim and highlight areas where you can provide more substantiating evidence.
More importantly, Veterans law attorneys can help you file an appeal for the initial VA decision. The appeals process may take some time, but it may help you receive disability compensation you should have received earlier. You may also see your disability rating increasing from what it was previously.
In either case, don’t give up. Contact Veterans law attorneys like Berry Law immediately if your MST claim has been denied.
Ultimately, you’ll have a greater chance of winning any military MST claim with the help of knowledgeable Veterans law attornies. Berry Law is well-equipped and ready to assist with filing any MST claim, including filing a claim for PTSD, appealing a previously denied claim for benefits, or something else entirely.
If you aren’t sure what to expect, don’t wait. Contact us today for the legal counsel you need and the peace of mind you deserve.
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