Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Just these three words alone evoke such terrible memories for those service men and women who have been affected by it. It is not a diagnosis, but an experience, a traumatic event in anyone’s life. As a whole, we tend to think that any sexual trauma is primarily related to women, but the sad truth is, it is not. Estimates consistently indicate that about 20% of women and 1% of men are sexually assaulted in a physical way during their military service. When verbal trauma is involved, the numbers rise substantially to 20% of males and 70% of females, and both types of assault can occur on or off base, and while a veteran is on or off duty.
MST is defined by Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D as “psychological trauma resulting 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.” A little known fact is that veterans are not granted compensation for the sexually traumatic event itself, but can be granted disability compensation for conditions that result from MST. If a veteran experienced military sexual trauma, that individual may find his or herself affected by the experiences from the time they occurred, or many years later the veteran may develop psychological and physical difficulties. PTSD is the most common mental health diagnosis related to experiencing MST, but other mental health disorders are prevalent in those veterans who have experienced any sort of MST while in service. The silver lining, if there is such a thing, which comes out of these terrible experiences is that veterans who were denied disability compensation prior to December 2011 for MST-related claims can have their case reevaluated by the VA. Increased awareness of MST issues resulted in special training beginning December 2011 for all VA regional office personnel who process MST-related claims.
Truth be told, most survivors of MST do not have any documentation showing that the sexual assault or harassment occurred. So many veterans feel disgraced, and the reality is there is a huge stigma against reporting such assaults, and too often are not reported right away. In a lot of cases, the military has taken no disciplinary action at all against those who perpetrated these assaults, which means there is no record at all of what happened. The VA understands this and does not require that service medical records contain proof of the assault or harassment. Veterans should never have to feel ashamed about applying for disability compensation for such a horrendous act against them, and deserve the utmost respect for coming forward and claiming those benefits they have earned through their service to our country.