What is Military Sexual Trauma?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines military sexual trauma (MST) as sexual assault or harassment experienced by an individual during their military service. The VA recognizes that MST can encompass a range of behaviors, including but not limited to:
Sexual assault: This refers to any unwanted, forced, or coerced sexual activity, such as rape or attempted rape.
Sexual harassment: This includes unwanted or repeated sexual advances, comments, or gestures that create a hostile or offensive environment.
The VA acknowledges that both women and men can experience MST, and it can occur during peacetime, training, or deployment. MST can have severe and long-lasting physical and psychological effects on survivors, and the VA provides support and services for veterans who have experienced MST.
How the Law Requires Veterans Affairs To Handle
Military Sexual Trauma
One of the requirements to obtain VA disability benefits is showing that a veteran experienced an in-service injury. But the VA is acutely aware that sexual trauma is not always officially reported, and therefore the types of personnel or medical records that would normally prove an in-service injury might not exist.
Thus, the standards for review of disability claims based on MST are different from other reported disabilities. In general, the VA is required to look for markers or more subtle types of evidence that sexual trauma occurred during service.
There are commonalities in the behavior of Veterans after a life-altering assault, and there can be any number of the following signs:
- A request by a Veteran to transfer to another military duty assignment
- Deterioration in work performance
- Less respect for your purpose in the military
- Substance abuse
- Episodes of depression, panic attacks, or anxiety without an identifiable cause
- Encounters with law enforcement or military disciplinary issues
- Rape crisis center reports
- Tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Unexplained economic or social behavioral changes
- Relationship problems such as divorce, or inability to maintain a normal sexual relationship
- Sexual dysfunction
- Statements from family members or friends
In sum, when a veteran claims a disability due to MST, the VA must make an extra effort to find and account for evidence of the types of subtle indicators of trauma that the veteran may have shown during service.