Matthew: Hello, and welcome to another Hill and Ponton Veterans video blog. I’m Mathew Hill.
Carol: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matthew: We’re looking to discuss today military sexual trauma PTSD cases. We really want to get into the indicators that there was an assault, but first let’s just come back to the broader picture.
Military sexual trauma is, unfortunately, very common. It happens to a large percentage of women; I’ve heard up to 50% of women. Strangely enough, it happens to quite a few men.
Matthew: There are cases and cases out there of this. We see them all the time, and we see the VA messing up service connecting these cases. Essentially, the VA will say that it didn’t happen, there are no indicators.
Carol: “No one came in and told me about it.”
Matthew: Right. Like any rape case, these are underreported. People don’t want to talk about this. They don’t want to tell somebody it happened. Unfortunately, as the military works, the person they would have to tell, their superior, might have been the rapist. Equally disappointing is that even when a service member had reported it, those reportings mysteriously disappeared.
Carol: Maybe some of the people, it was their friend who may have been the rapist and they don’t want to ruin their career. Documentation is a real problem, documentation. How do you prove it? Because it happened.
Matthew: The VA has given some lenience there in how you prove it, because they admit that it’s never in your records. They have a list of indicators they have out, as far as the things they think might show that if you have one of these indicators, that something happened.
One of the most common ones that we see is where there is deterioration in job performance in the military, where they were getting all high and excellent reports beforehand, and then after the assault their reports show that they were doing very poorly.
Carol: They didn’t care about their job, were defiant, maybe didn’t show up, started with a drug or alcohol problem, or wanted to transfer out.
Matthew: That’s a big one right there, transferring out. You’ll see one where the person asked for a different military occupational specialty to get distance within the base, or they just ask straight for a transfer. That happens immediately after or not long after the assault.
Those are indicators that would be seen in the veteran’s service records. The VA is bound to get those service records when you make an application for PTSD due to military sexual trauma.
Carol: But remember, you can’t count on the fact they did that. They are supposed to, but it’s your case. You need to write to Saint Louis and say, “I want a copy of my personnel file.” It’s not your medical records alone; you want your personnel file that would show this.
Matthew: And by “Saint Louis,” she means the National Personnel Records Center, which is where your file would be. Carol brought up a good point. Usually when the VA writes for records, they write for just the veteran’s service medical records.
These indicators we just discussed – the performance record, the change of job, and the change of location – none of those are in the service medical records. So you want to make sure the VA has ordered your total file, both your service record file and the service medical records. If they look at just the service medical records, they’re going to deny you out of hand.
Matthew: Other places that they’re supposed to look is if the veteran went to any kind of outside clinic, hospital, any kind of counseling, they’re supposed to look at that for records and see if that would help prove the case.
Carol: Or if they told someone, if they told someone at the time. A lot of times I’ve had veterans that say, “I didn’t tell anybody.” I say, “Can I talk to your parents? Did you ultimately tell them about it?” They’ll say, “I did, but it was a long time ago.” When I talk to the parents, they did get informed. They found out and they talked to their daughter about it.
But a lot of times, people who have gone through this trauma, it’s hard to remember. They don’t want to remember. You need to be able to talk to the family, the friends, the people they knew back then.
Matthew: That’s the thing you’re looking for: people that maybe concurrently found out, they were told what happened.
One of the keys I find to winning these cases is finding people who knew the veteran before service and after service. The VA specifically says that they will consider social changes that happened with the veteran. This, to me, is the place where the VA, even though they say this is the way to prove it, they never do it. They never look for these social changes. We have won lots and lots of these cases based on this.
There is no evidence in the VA record or the service medical records or any of that, but this is just someone who knew them before service and after service. What we look to do is get a buddy statement from that person in asking them what the veteran was like before service. What were the attributes, the characteristics you would use to describe the person? Then when they saw them after service, had anything changed?
I had a case for a woman who had been fighting for service connection for this for decades. There was nothing in her service file, nothing in her service medical records. It had been her chief who had committed the rape, and there was no way to win on those records.
I was able to hunt down her younger brother, who had been out of contact with her for decades. This veteran had never told anyone. She hadn’t told her husband. She actually had a couple of husbands, hadn’t told any of them; no one in her family, and not her little brother.
So I found him, and the veteran said, “I don’t want you telling him about the rape.” So I went with that, and I asked the brother, “Tell me about her before service.” And he said, “My sister walked into the room and she was the light of the party. Everybody wanted to be with her. She was always laughing. She was always the one having a good time. She was very social around everyone.”
And he said, “After service, I don’t know what happened, but she was always by herself. She never wanted to be in public. I never saw her smile.” Even though the brother didn’t know what happened, his statement was so powerful that we were able to get her the benefits she was entitled to.
Carol: The last thing that I would say is remember you need to know that the regional office probably is not going to go with this. The regional office still seems to have a very hard time taking statements from the people who knew the veteran. Unless it’s said right in the VA file that she was raped, they don’t seem to be awarding these cases.
But the Board of Veterans’ Appeal, which is where you go after you leave the regional office, has been very good about applying the law and awarding benefits like they should. So that’s the other thing I’d say: Please don’t stop until you’ve gone through the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Matthew: I agree. As far as the order of urgency for you in a case like this, it would be first to get your service records, your service medical records. If there are indicators there, that’s something that even the regional office has a hard time to ignore.
But even if there aren’t ones there and the regional office come back and says, “You’ve got nothing, we’re denying it,” you’re going to look to develop evidence of friends and family that either might have heard from you what happened in service or can speak to the changes before and after service.
Matthew: Well, that does it for this edition, and we will see you next time on the Veterans video blog. Thank you.