MST: More Common Than You Think
Military sexual trauma, or MST, is the term used by the VA to describe experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a veteran experienced during his or her military service. Filing a VA MST Claim can be difficult but it is possible to be successful. First, we must learn how the VA defines Military Sexual Trauma.
How the VA Defines MST
According to the VA, MST includes any sexual activity where a service member is involved against his or her own will. He or she may have been:
- Pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied better treatment in exchange for sex)
- Unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated)
- Physically forced into sexual activities
Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include:
- Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing
- Threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities
- Unwelcome sexual advances
Military Sexual Trauma Statistics
National data revealed that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men respond “yes,” that they experienced MST when screened by their VA provider. Keep in mind this only includes those service members seeking VA treatment and those who chose to be honest with their VA providers.
If you experienced MST and have a diagnosis of PTSD or Depression due to this in-service event, file a claim with the VA. An MST Claim may be possible for you. If you do not have a diagnosis of a subsequent mental health condition but are experiencing negative mental health symptoms, file a claim and speak to your doctor, or seek treatment from a mental health professional.
How to Prove Your MST Claim
- When submitting evidence to support your MST claim, be sure to look through your service records for what the VA refers to as “Markers”. Markers are identifiers in the record that help to prove that an event happened in service that changed your behavior. Common markers include:
- 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 changes
- Buddy Statements are also helpful in terms of evidence. If you didn’t report the incident, did you tell someone about the event when or after it happened? Have that person describe what you told them on a VA Form 21-4138. They can be a witness to the trauma you experienced and how it has negatively impacted you. If you did not report the event or tell anyone about the event, do you know anyone that can attest to your changed behavior? Someone who knew you before and after service – parents, siblings, childhood friends – can report how you were before service and how your behaviors have changed following service. You may have started isolating yourself, becoming more angry or irritable, etc. A witness to that changed behavior can be key to winning your claim.
- Fill out the VA Form 21-0781 – Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for PTSD, with as much detail as possible. It can be difficult to recall and describe the trauma you experienced in service; consider filling out the form with your mental health doctor for additional support.
What You Can Do
Remember, Military Sexual Trauma is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, it is more common than you think. If you are living with the repercussions of this trauma, do not hesitate to file a claim. Being awarded service-connection for an unreported MST can be difficult, but with the right evidence, it is definitely possible to win your MST claim.