Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD: What Is the Connection?

Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD: What Is the Connection?

Sexual trauma, broadly referred to as unwanted sexual contact, is sadly all too prevalent in many occupations and environments. Among our military heroes, the sad reality is that many will face unsolicited sexual contact or advances during their tenure serving our country. Unfortunately, a large percentage of VA claims for military sexual trauma go denied.

If you or a Veteran you love faced military sexual trauma (MST), you deserve access to the resources and support you need. Additionally, knowing how MST affects your VA disability benefits can ensure your family’s ongoing well-being and protect your rights.

The Veterans law attorneys at Berry Law are proud to act as Veterans serving Veterans, supporting former service members nationwide, fighting for the security and welfare of our nation’s bravest, and delivering on our promise to help you get the most out of your disability benefits.

What Is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military sexual trauma refers to the psychological trauma and aftereffects of a broad range of unwarranted conduct during military service. This may include everything from unsolicited verbal remarks of a sexual nature, unwanted or inappropriate physical contact to more aggressive forms of sexual assault.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines military sexual trauma as:

  • Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or promises of better treatment in exchange for sex
  • Someone having sexual contact with you without your consent, such as when you were asleep or intoxicated
  • Being physically forced to have sex
  • Being touched in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable
  • Comments about your body or sexual activities that you found threatening
  • Unwanted sexual advances that you found threatening

Regardless of the action, all non-consensual activity can profoundly affect a Veteran, causing psychological trauma, anxiety, negative self-image, and distress.

No one Veteran will have the same experience as another, and not everyone will define their experiences or what resulted from them the same way. However, the VA acknowledges that this problem is widespread and has devoted considerable attention to creating programs and benefits tailored to the needs of all Veterans, including those who reported incidents of sexual trauma while on active duty.

Symptoms of Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD

While some Veterans might interchangeably speak of MST and PTSD, MST is neither a diagnosis nor a disability.

Not every Veteran who experiences military sexual trauma will receive a diagnosis of PTSD or another mental disorder or condition. However, some studies suggest that the tendency to develop post-traumatic stress disorder increases in those who experienced some form of MST.

Other consequences linked to traumatic experiences include mood and substance abuse disorders. However, these conditions are not synonymous with sexual trauma among service members.

Sexual Trauma in Veterans Is More Common Than You Think

Due to the topic’s sensitive nature, we lack accurate statistics for Veterans who experienced some form of MST. However, a recent study shows that an estimated 15.7 percent of military personnel experienced sexual trauma, including harassment and assault, while serving our nation. When surveyed for only assault, the figure decreases slightly to 13.9 percent. Reporting that assesses only harassment indicates that upwards of 31.2 percent of Veterans have experienced some form of MST. 

The Consequences of MST on Veterans

As with other symptoms related to a traumatic experience or event, the effects can vary significantly.

However, in general, the VA identifies some consequences of military sexual trauma as: 

  • Strong emotions, irritability, mood swings, and depression
  • Feeling emotionally numb, flat, or insensitive to positive emotions
  • Difficulty sleeping, recurring nightmares, and restlessness
  • Difficulty with memory, concentration, attention, and processing
  • Propensity to use alcohol or illegal substances to cope, avoid negative feelings, or fall asleep
  • Avoidance of things, places, or experiences that remind one of the previous traumatic events, or being flighty or easily startled
  • Difficulty with relationships and intimacy, mistrust, or recurring negative patterns in relationships
  • Chronic pain, weight loss or gain, gastrointestinal distress, or other health problems

These symptoms can often overlap with other conditions, both physical and mental.

Seek an evaluation from your VA healthcare provider to determine the underlying causes of your symptoms to make them more manageable and get the full VA disability benefits you deserve. 

How Much Disability Can I Receive for Military Sexual Trauma? 

As MST is not a disability in itself, no specific disability rating applies to it. However, sexual trauma may have brought on or aggravated other issues that can result in disability claims, such as PTSD or a chronic health condition. 

In addition, if you received a denial for a claim related to MST before August 2018, the VA issued a statement encouraging those Veterans to reapply. The best Lincoln VA disability benefits lawyer can navigate this process, gather evidence, submit an appeal, and determine which channels to direct your claim through.

How Does Military Sexual Trauma Affect My VA Rating? 

If you have a physical or mental condition that MST caused or aggravated, you may file a disability compensation claim. Your VA disability rating will depend on which condition you apply under.

The VA will calculate your disability rating using its current disability rating guidelines.

As with all VA ratings, your disability will range from 0 to 100 percent based on its interference with your life.

Furthermore, depending on your needs, your total benefits may include:

  • Monthly non-taxable compensation
  • Access to VA healthcare services
  • Outpatient counseling
  • Residential or inpatient treatment

Some services, such as healthcare and mental health treatment, do not require a VA rating.

However, for the VA to approve your claim for monthly disability compensation, you will need to provide evidence supporting and documenting your disability claim, including:

  • The mental or physical current condition that affects you
  • The event or injury that happened during your military service
  • A link demonstrating your current disability and the event or injury that preceded it

Evidence Supporting a Military Sexual Trauma VA Disability Rating

Several types of evidence can support a VA disability claim in connection with military sexual trauma. The most common evidence used are records documenting the incident, including medical or personnel records from your time of service or investigative reports.

However, many Veterans chose not to report sexual abuse when it happened, so those documents may not exist. 

The VA states that alternative evidence may include:

  • Statements from a chaplain or clergy
  • A counseling facility or health clinic
  • A rape crisis center or center for domestic abuse
  • Statements from a faculty member
  • Civilian police report
  • Statements from family members or roommates
  • Statements from fellow service members
  • Medical reports from civilian physicians or caregivers who treated the Veteran immediately following the incident or sometime later
  • Personal diaries or journals

Additionally, while not providing direct evidence of military sexual trauma, the corroboration of changes in your mood, work performance, substance abuse, or other unexplained behavior may strengthen your claim. 

How a PTSD Lawyer Can Help You Get the Most Out of Your VA Disability Claim

At Berry Law, we understand the challenges Veterans face when they must submit their VA disability claims and advocate for themselves. That’s why we dedicated ourselves to championing Veterans’ rights for over 50 years. Our attorneys are committed to helping you reap the most of the VA disability benefits you earned while serving our country. 

Suppose you require legal assistance submitting a claim, appealing a denial, or filing to increase your VA disability rating. In that case, you can count on the Veterans serving Veterans at Berry Law to stand by your side every step of the way.

If you or a Veteran you love has a legal matter to discuss, contact us today for more information and to speak to an attorney at no cost.

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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