In 2017, U.S. Veterans filed 12,000 claims seeking VA disability compensation support for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to military sexual trauma (MST).
Nearly half of those claims were denied.
A recent investigation estimates that the VA failed to follow procedure when processing over 1,000 of the denied claims.
If you have filed a claim for PTSD or another mental or physical disability due to MST, you may get a rating decision that uses “boilerplate” (standardized pieces of text) language stating: “Service connection for acquired psychiatric disorder due to MST is denied since this condition neither occurred in nor was caused by service.”
This is not the legal analysis required by the Secretary of the VA.
This boilerplate serves as a quick answer, but it has been the cause of more problems for MST survivors. It is dismissive, unsupportive, callous, reinforces the “blame the victim” mentality, and implies to the Veteran that the VA doesn’t believe them. For many Veterans, this statement says “this did not happen.” (“Not being believed” is also one of the reasons that over 80% of male Veterans do not report their MST).
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 to the behavior of Veterans after a life-altering assault, and there can be any number of the following signs:
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.
You do not have to be service-connected for the purpose of compensation in order to receive treatment for MST through the VA. Treatment for MST is especially important, as the effects on a survivor can lead to severe mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse (generally as self-medication against anxiety and depression), and suicide.
Additionally, the Veteran survivor is likely to isolate themselves. They may have extreme “triggers” that remind them of the crime. They may be unable to use a public restroom, maintain a personal relationship, or hold down a job.
Military sexual trauma impacts female Veterans and male Veterans alike.
The Pentagon and other sources estimate that 81% of male MST survivors do not report the crime. Male MST survivors are also four times more likely to have attempted suicide than Veterans with PTSD who are not MST survivors, even when controlled for demographics and other psychological factors. Male survivors are more likely to have major problems with work, adjustment to civilian life, poor family relationships, and intimate partner relationships. These are all good reasons to seek treatment, whether the MST was recent or not.
Some survivors fear facing charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the circumstances surrounding the assault (drinking while underaged, for example). Others are worried about possible repercussions, or think that retaliation from other service members will be worse than what they have already suffered. In addition, as irrational as it may seem, many survivors feel a sense of shame or guilt about what happened to them. All of these factors can dissuade a Veteran from reporting the sexual trauma. However, this can have severe consequences. The unreported trauma can drive some survivors to substance abuse or suicide.
Being a survivor of MST is nothing to be ashamed of.
When you seek treatment, it is a brave, healthy choice. You are helping to avoid the potentially dark aftermath of the MST attack. This trauma can affect all areas of your life. Seeking treatment will also leave a valuable paper trail full of evidence that the VA cannot ignore.
When you file a claim with the VA, you are taking action against injustice. You deserve compensation, with the additional benefit of knowing that you are not only believed, you are getting redress for your injuries. Veterans must hold the VA accountable for MST treatment. This will also force the VA and by extension the U.S. Department of Defense to look into these issues and work to combat these problems in the military.
If you or a loved one are a survivor of MST, our MST attorneys at Berry Law can help you today. Contact our Lincoln office today.
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