Sexual trauma in the military is on the rise, according to official reports. Unfortunately, this also means that more and more claims for military sexual trauma (MST) are denied every year, leaving Veterans and their families frustrated and grappling with the appeals process, wondering how to make their evidence as clear-cut as possible and not let the VA overlook any of their symptoms.
If you or a Veteran you love faces a VA disability benefits claim denial, reach out to the skilled advocates at Berry Law. Since 1965, we have served Veterans nationwide in the pursuit of justice, helping them maximize their claims and refute denials.
We understand this matter is of utmost importance and are prepared to serve as your ally and advocate, fighting alongside you for comprehensive rights and increased awareness of your struggle.
The VA defines military sexual trauma as an event, not a condition. As such, acquiring VA disability benefits for MST involves identifying a service-related connection between the initial experience and subsequent conditions or qualifying disabilities.
The most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the strong correlation between MST and PTSD. However, you may pursue other MST-secondary claims, depending on the evidence.
VA benefits for those who experienced military sexual trauma can help Veterans care for themselves and their loved ones in more ways than one.
You may face difficulties at school or work or find yourself unable to pursue the opportunities and career path you once hoped for.
The vast ramifications of your experiences can look very different from other Veterans who found themselves subjected to similar events. Therefore, the effect of receiving VA disability benefits is unique, based on the individual. However, VA benefits generally provide Veterans with a wide net of financial security and increased access to much-needed resources and care.
According to official reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA denied about half of all claims filed for military sexual trauma in one recent year. The report largely blamed processing errors, including missing markers for MST or failing to request an examination when warranted.
As of 2018, the VA has initiated a change in how it processes these claims, including its delegation to specific regional offices with specialized training. However, the previous report indicates that regional offices continued a pattern of non-compliance following this change.
According to the VA’s heightened protocols surrounding MST claims, all claim denials must first go through a second-level review. However, a shocking majority of these denied claims do not pass through a second review, nor are the second-level reviewers held accountable for accuracy, per the VA’s protocol. These oversights lead to many decisions to deny claims for military sexual trauma.
The VA acknowledges the validity of certain markers, or circumstantial evidence, to support or corroborate VA claims for MST.
These may include, among others:
Since 2018, the VA has used additional checklists to help identify these markers in military sexual trauma claims. However, in many cases, processors fail to use these checklists to successfully identify the markers present, indicating the Veteran’s service-connected condition with MST. By one report’s estimation, processors only use these checklists around 50 percent of the time.
Sometimes, a claim denial may require you to compile more evidence. In this instance, working with a Veterans law attorney can help immensely. A lawyer can identify additional sources of evidence and information you did not include in your initial claim that might now provide a cause for re-submission or an appeal.
Those who experience traumatic events cannot always recall every detail about them. Additionally, those who receive a PTSD diagnosis can feel an aversion to recalling the event or talking about it with others, which can, in turn, make the process of retrieving certain evidence more challenging.
However, you need consistent information in your claim. For example, if you claim that you couldn’t work due to an MST-related condition, yet your reports indicate that you held a part-time job during the same period, the VA might question your claim’s validity.
Working with a reputable lawyer can ensure that the evidence you present aligns with your accounts of your conditions.
A denial letter is understandably disheartening. However, this does not necessarily mean the end of your claim. Stay calm and collected during this process as you evaluate your options.
However, act swiftly—generally, you have one year from the initial decision letter to begin the review process and file an appeal.
Contact a Veterans disability benefits attorney who can help you weigh your decisions and support you during this time.
Keep copies of every document you submit, including all forms. A well-organized record will ensure you know exactly what you already submitted when you appeal.
If you need additional documentation, your attorney can determine what this might consist of and what avenues to explore. An additional personal statement or buddy statement from a fellow service member might bolster your claim. Or, your initial claim needed more evidence of the connection between your current condition and MST.
A successful appeal will usually involve submitting information that your original claim omitted. Your VA disability benefits attorney can determine why the VA denied your claim and what information your appeal needs.
Again, keep these records, including who you talked to and what evidence you obtained from whom, as organized as possible to ensure efficiency and avoid discrepancies.
Filing an appeal is the first step in contesting an adverse decision.
Generally, you will choose this option if:
Moving forward, you may have several appeal options.
Appealing a VA decision through the Supplemental Claim lane is one of the most common avenues to contest a denial. To do so, you must provide new and relevant evidence your initial claim did not contain.
You may respond to and appeal decisions from a VA Regional Office and the Supplemental Claim lane by requesting a higher-level review. Veterans may choose this option when they have no new evidence to submit and wish to request an optional conference with a claims adjudicator to review their initial claims to re-examine the VA’s decision with a more experienced Veterans Service Representative.
Through an appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), a Veteran can appeal decisions from the VA Regional Office, the Supplemental Claim lane, and higher-level reviews.
Upon doing so, you will have several options to proceed based on the circumstances of the denial:
A hearing for those who have additional evidence to submit and are prepared to testify before the Board
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is a federal appellate court that reviews board decisions. Veterans may appeal a BVA decision with the help of a Veterans law attorney, such as those at Berry Law.
As you prepare to submit an appeal, you’ll likely need all the knowledge, support, and guidance you can muster. Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and financially as you make these decisions and weigh your options.
We encourage Veterans, especially those who have experienced traumatic events, to seek refuge in peer support groups, mental health resources, family and friends, and other resources as they continue to seek justice.
Berry Law’s team has decades of experience as trained professionals in the legal field and an even longer history as Veterans. We are prepared to advocate for you and your family and assist you throughout every stage following a claim denial.
Regardless of whether your appeal ends at the Regional Office level or in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans, we believe that as long as you have options, there is no reason to give up hope. Our firm has successfully served over 10,000 Veterans and recovered over $180 million in backpay awards for them.
Choose Berry Law, and we’ll proudly continue the fight with you. Contact us today at (888) 883-2483 to learn how we can help with your VA disability benefits claim.
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