In 2017, U.S. Veterans filed 12,000 Veterans Benefits Administration claims seeking support for post-traumatic 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.
How VA Handles Claims for PTSD with Military Sexual Trauma:
If you have filed a claim for PTSD with 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).
How the VA Should Handle Military Sexual Trauma (according to requirements):
The VA is acutely aware that sexual trauma is not always officially reported, and therefore the standards for review are different from other reported disabilities. The required evidence standards are not always applicable. People who perpetrate these crimes don’t want to get caught and do not normally assault the victim in front of witnesses. The VA must look for “markers.”
There are commonalities to the behavior of Veterans after a life-altering assault, and there can be any number of the following signs:
- A request of 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
- Records from law enforcement
- 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
The Effects Military Sexual Trauma
You do not have to be service-connected for any other injury 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.
Military Sexual Trauma for Males
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.
Why Male MST Survivors Don’t Report the Crime
Some survivors fear facing charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the circumstances surrounding the assault (drinking while underaged, etc). Others are worried about possible repercussions, or think that retaliation from other service members will be worse than what they have already suffered. 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.
The Importance of Treatment and VA compensation
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.
Contact a Military Sexual Trauma Lawyer
When you file a claim with the VA, you are taking action against the 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 to look into these issues and work to combat the these problems in the military.