How To Win a Military Sexual Assault (MST) Claim

How To Win a Military Sexual Assault (MST) Claim

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.

What is MST?

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:

  • Being forced to perform a sexual activity
  • Not being able to give consent for sexual activities, such as while drugged or intoxicated
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Being pressured into performing sexual activities; for example, a superior pressuring a officer into performing sexual actions on them while threatening negative consequences if they do not
  • Hearing threatening and/or offensive remarks about sexual activities or a person’s body

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.

VA-Compensated Disabilities and Injuries From MST

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.

When Do You Qualify for Disability Compensation for MST?

You may qualify for disability compensation for MST if:

  • You experienced military sexual trauma while you were enlisted in the military or while you were in training for the military
  • That military sexual trauma directly led to or exacerbated the symptoms of a disability or injury

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.

How Do You Make an MST Claim?

To make a successful military sexual trauma claim, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

  • First, you must have a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, PTSD, or some other illness, injury, or condition caused or aggravated by your military sexual trauma
  • You should then retrieve a nexus letter or independent medical opinion signed by your doctor. This states that it is their opinion that your MST incident caused or aggravated your condition or illness
  • You must gather and prepare additional evidence substantiating your claim
  • Lastly, you must file VA Form 21-526, which is the same form that you would file for any other disability benefits claim

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.

What Key Evidence Do You Need To Win a Military MST Claim?

To properly support any MST claim, you must prove three key elements:

  • First, you currently suffer from a disability
  • Second, there was an event or injury that occurred during your time in the military
  • Third, there is sufficient evidence that indicates the above-mentioned injury or event caused your current disability

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.

What Substantiating Evidence Do I Need?

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:

  • Police records or records from rape crisis centers
  • Journals or diary entries that you kept around the time of the incident
  • Pregnancy tests or tests for STDs/sexually transmitted diseases
  • Statements from fellow servicemembers, family members, counselors, or others you told about the event
  • Documentation that you requested a base transfer
  • Proof of drug or alcohol problems
  • Records of changes in your job performance or changes in your economic or social behavior when there is no other explanation
  • Records of depression or anxiety after the event

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. 

What Happens If Your Claim Is Denied?

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.

Contact Berry Law

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.


Getting Disability Compensation for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) | Nolo

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) | Veterans Affairs

Disability Compensation for Conditions Related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST) | Veterans Benefits Administration

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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