An unfortunate aspect of military life is that many sexual and personal assaults occur. MST affects both men and women of the military and often these incidents go unreported. Whether it is for fear of retaliation or embarrassment and guilt, the majority of MST incidents remain without a record, making it difficult to prove that the incident happened. Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, is defined by the VA as “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.”
So how do you corroborate, or confirm, that an MST occurred? The VA has “markers” for which it believes are evidence corroborative of MST. The “markers” are as follows:
- Records from Law Enforcement Authorities
- Rape Crisis Centers
- Mental Health Counseling Centers, Hospitals, or Physicians
- Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Statements from family members, roommates, fellow service-members, or clergy
- Evidence of behavior changes, including:
- A request for a transfer to another military duty assignment;
- Deterioration in work performance;
- Substance abuse;
- Episodes of depression;
- Panic attacks, or anxiety without an identifiable cause;
- Unexplained economic or social behavior change.
Since most MSTs are not reported, there probably will not be records from law enforcement or obvious notes of MST in-service medical records. However, it is important to request and look through your service medical records to see if there are statements of changes in mental health or behavior. All of the above “markers” are accepted by the VA but the ones that have found to be most valuable to provide corroboration are lay statements (statements from family members, roommates, fellow service-members, or clergy) and evidence of behavior change.
It is important to gather as many statements as possible which provide credible evidence that the MST occurred. Whether it is a statement from a family member saying how your behavior was one way before service and then after service you were angry and depressed, or a statement from a fellow service-member documenting how your behavior suddenly changed, these statements can help your case. Look through your service records to see if there is a documented change of deterioration in your work, or record of insubordination after the assault when prior to the assault you always followed the rules. Combing through your service records and service medical records can help you find evidence to corroborate the occurrence of the MST. If there is nothing in your records to establish this, reach out to your officers if you can contact them to provide a statement of such behavior change.
When getting statements it is important to get as many as possible that help define the above “markers” and make sure to file the statements on the VA Form 21-4138.
Besides gathering evidence to corroborate that the MST occurred, you should also get one of your health care providers to provide a nexus statement in which the provider states that the MST occurred and that your current mental health condition (whether it be PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.) is due to your MST. Receiving a statement from a VAMC provider will hold higher esteem than a private provider to the VA, but any opinion relating your current mental health condition to the MST can help your case. Opinions from psychiatrists and psychologists will also hold higher esteem than opinions from therapists and counselors due to their more extensive education and training. Also, make sure to have your provider review your C-file and include that it was reviewed in their statement. The VA wants to make sure that the provider has reviewed all relevant information when providing an opinion.