As a leading cause of debilitating mental and physical health conditions, military sexual trauma (MST) can lead to life-altering social and occupational impairment.
When a veteran goes through an event, injury, or illness that requires ongoing medical care and has a lasting impact on the veteran’s ability to work, VA disability benefits are available. Coverage includes mental health treatment, medical services, and other required measures to address the symptoms and tax-free monthly payments at certain VA ratings.
The process can be confusing, and if you fail to provide sufficient information with your application, you’ll be denied, in which case a military sexual assault lawyer can help you file an appeal. When an appeal is successful, you receive back-dated compensation, which can lead to sizable sums.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers extensive health care and financial compensation benefits to veterans who have experienced MST during service, including 100% disability and TDIU benefits. Getting MST disability benefits isn’t easy, but it CAN be done.
Collecting compensation for your MST requires the following:
- A current diagnosis for a condition
- That condition was caused by MST during qualifying active service
- You have the opinion of a medical expert and other evidence to link your current diagnosis to your MST experienced during active service
While it would be ideal if compensation for your MST were automatic and you received the full benefits you could be entitled to automatically, that is not the case. Instead, a comprehensive application process must be undergone, including examinations, the gathering of evidence, and the completion of your application and any related appeals within certain timelines.
The following information is provided to help you improve your chances of getting your VA benefits claim approved.
A military sexual assault lawyer has the knowledge and experience needed to make the most of your claim. Understanding the link between our veteran clients' current conditions and traumatic experiences and working with medical and mental health experts to prove it is how you recover the benefits you deserve. If you would like to talk to one of our experienced VA disability attorneys at no charge to you, call our office at (888) 878-9350 today.
The following information is provided to help you improve your chances of getting your VA benefits claim approved.
If you would like to talk to one of our experienced VA disability attorneys at no charge to you, call our office at (888) 878-9350 today.
What is MST?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers Military Sexual
Trauma as psychological trauma
Physical assault of a sexual nature
Battery of a sexual nature
Offensive sexual remarks
Unwanted sexual advances
MST includes sexual harassment, defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”
Any unwanted sexual activity may be considered MST, including being physically forced into a sex act, participating in sexual activity because of a threat of negative consequences or promise of beneficial treatment, or any situation where the service member is unable to consent, including intoxication.
MST can occur at any time during service, including active duty, active-duty training, and inactive duty training, even when off base or off duty.
Military Sexual Trauma Statistics
The United States military is unfortunately notorious for high rates of MST, and given the low rates of reporting, the problem is suspected to be even worse. In 2014 alone, 10,400 men and 8,500 women on active duty reported experiencing some form of unwanted sexual contact - numbers that are actually much higher, since 81% of men and 67% of women who suffer military sexual trauma (MST) do not dare report it.
Threats of retaliation, irreparable career damage, ostracization, and further abuse dissuade service members from even anonymously bringing MST allegations to light. These experiences can lead to long-term and life-altering consequences for the victim, which can manifest in symptoms like depression, PTSD, or anxiety and can qualify the veteran for a VA disability rating and related compensation. It is helpful to document your symptoms and how they impact your day-to-day life and ability to perform on the job.
More than 95,000 military service members were sexually assaulted between 2006 and 2011. In 2015, the VA reported 1,307,781 VA outpatient visits for MST-related care.
In 2012, there were over 14,200 reports of military male rape. In 2014, reports suggested that 38 military males were sexually assaulted each day. Males in the military are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than male civilians.
In 2016, 8,600 women and 6,300 men reported sexual assault, but these numbers represent only the 19% of men and 33% of women who chose to report it. Because most sexual assaults occurred more than once, estimates suggest over 70,000 assaults in 2016, with over 25% of women and 33% of men assaulted by someone in their chain of command.
Your initial consultation with a military sexual trauma attorney from our VA benefits law firm is free. We will review your individual situation, your prior applications to the VA, and discuss what options there might be for us to help you. Before we begin on your case, if it fits with our firm, we take the time to explain exactly how everything works and only get started after all of your questions have been answered and we’ve signed an engagement agreement.
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What disabilities does MST cause?
Military sexual trauma can cause debilitating, persistent mental and physical complications, destroying careers, families, and lives.
- PTSD (flashbacks, nightmares, social isolation, paranoia, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, depression)
- Chronic Pain/headaches
- Sexual dysfunction
- Eating disorders (obesity, anorexia)
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sexually transmitted diseases (genital herpes, genital warts, HIV)
- Loss of emotion
- Thoughts of suicide
- Inability to stay focused
- Memory problems
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Trust issues
- Difficulties with intimacy
- Problems with authority
- Mood disorders
- Chronic depression
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social isolation
These symptoms can be something that you might not notice as a result of their slow development. There are a variety of tests and screens available to you through the VA to determine if you might have a mental health condition. Seeking out the assistance of a healthcare or mental health professional at your nearest VA-affiliated center is always an option, as is reaching out to the VA for help lining up treatment and support.
Not every veteran responds to trauma in the same way.
Many factors affect how each individual will react to a traumatic event. Gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, general resilience, past exposure to trauma, circumstances surrounding the traumatic experience itself and the frequency of abuse all play a role in how MST will play out.
What is the VA rating for military sexual trauma?
With proper care, victims of MST can overcome their mental and physical issues to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Proper benefits that adequately compensate veterans for their impairments can prevent many disastrous outcomes. To receive higher levels of tax-free payments for VA-rated disabilities, medication is generally ineffective at managing the symptoms of your condition, which in turn impacts your ability to live your day-to-day life and work.
The VA offers benefits to compensate veterans who experienced sexual abuse or repeated sexual harassment during military service. Disability benefits for physical and mental issues associated with MST can include:
Disability benefits for
physical and mental
issues associated with
MST can include:
- Monthly non-taxable compensation
- VA health care
- Ten-point hiring preference for federal employment
- Other valuable benefits
As with any disability rating, VA bases the MST rating percentage on the severity of the disability. Severity is measured using military records, C&P exam reports, witness statements, and other evidence provided in the veteran’s disability claim.
For example, a 100% disability rating for MST would involve complete social and occupational impairment, affecting such life areas as employment, relationships, mood, cognition, and decision-making. A 70% rating would involve severe social and occupational impairment, while a 50% rating would involve less severe social and occupational impairment. A 70% rating plus Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) would indicate an inability to sustain gainful occupation.
In measuring disability severity, VA is not measuring the severity of the MST. Instead, it measures the severity of the disability associated with the MST, such as PTSD, sexually transmitted diseases, chronic pain, physical illnesses, cognitive difficulties, mood disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
The VA Rating System for MST and Related Percentages
The amount that you receive in tax-free payments for your MST-related symptoms depends upon the VA disability rating you are assigned for each of your symptoms. Generally, the symptoms that develop as a result of MST are linked to mental health and include the broad list of conditions presented above.
For mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders such as PTSD, the following percentage scale is generally applied:
- 0 percent - this VA rating for a mental health disability means that you have a diagnosis for the condition; however, it has no impact on your capacity to function in either social or occupational situations.
- 10 percent - you have a current diagnosis for a mental health condition, but it is manageable through either medication and/or talk therapy and does not significantly impact your ability to function at work or to engage in social situations and to enjoy activities as you had prior to your traumatic experience.
- 30 percent - at this percentage, your disability does have an occasional impact on your ability to work. For example, your depression rating may reach 30 percent if medication is insufficient to prevent you from occasional absenteeism from work or a lack of focus that reduces productivity.
- 50 percent - when medication is insufficient to prevent instances where the symptoms of your mental health condition significantly impact your ability to work and handle social life, then this disability rating is appropriate. Your tax-free compensation payments increase as the percentages rise to account for the drop in your ability to maintain steady employment to support yourself and your family due to your condition.
- 70 percent - at this VA disability rating, you are severely challenged in maintaining gainful employment, medication and talk therapy are insufficient to manage your symptoms, and your day-to-day life in general is highly impacted. However, you are capable of performing day-to-day functions without assistance at this rating generally and can leave the house with assistance.
- 100 percent - to receive a 100 percent disability rating for a mental health condition linked to your service-related MST, your symptoms must completely prevent you from engaging in gainful employment of any kind, and requires that you receive in-home aid and assistance to address your symptoms.
It is important to understand that the VA will rate multiple different symptoms of your MST and that the percentage rating of each symptom is added together. When you have a total disability rating of 70 percent or more, you may qualify for “individual unemployability,” which, as defined by the VA, “means you may be eligible to get disability compensation or benefits at the same level as a veteran who has a 100% disability rating.”
If you are filing for IU, then you’ll need to file the following 3 forms, alongside sufficient evidence to prove your current diagnosis, their link to your service-connected MST, and a medical opinion or nexus letter linking them together:
- VA Form 21-526EZ - Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits - To collect benefits for any disability, you’ll need to first submit this form to the VA. A VA-accredited lawyer or agent cannot assist you for a fee during this period of your application. However, if your application is denied, or you need to file a claim for a new VA disability rating, you may benefit from working with a military sexual assault lawyer.
- VA Form 21-8940 - Veteran’s Application for Increased Compensation Based on Unemployability - This form is filed alongside your general application and evidence to seek out complete disability benefits at the 100 percent rate, which is available through IU when you have a combined disability rating of 70 percent, one of which is rated at least 40 percent.
- VA Form 21-4192 - Request for Employment Information in Connection with Claim for Disability Benefits - This form is submitted when you are applying for Individual Unemployability, and need to have your most recent employer send the VA information in support of your claim. It is required that your most recent employer complete and submit this form to the VA for consideration alongside your application.
In addition to your applications, you’ll need to submit sufficient evidence to prove and win your claim, including supporting medical evidence to prove your current condition, its service-connected MST link, and expert opinions that verify this.
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How to win military MST disability claims?
Collecting VA disability benefits for MST requires that you have a current diagnosis for a condition stemming from your service-related MST. While the VA may seek to conduct a compensation and pension (C&P) exam as part of your VA disability claim, if you provide sufficient medical information with your application, the VA may omit this step of the process.
The secret to winning a claim for VA benefits to cover complications resulting from MST is to:
Know the “markers” of MST
Identify these markers in
your own life, and
Compile evidence of those
markers - supported by a medical nexus letter
Learning to compile powerful evidence for your VA benefits claim for psychiatric disabilities secondary to the military sexual trauma can ensure that you receive the compensation and treatment you deserve.
A nexus letter is the third element you need to prove to collect any VA disability compensation beyond medical and mental health treatment: a link between your service-related MST and your current diagnosis through the opinion of a medical expert the VA recognizes.
In general, direct evidence is the best evidence. Direct evidence might include official U.S. Department of Defense reports of the MST incident, service medical records, police reports, and related investigative reports completed at the time of the incident.
But, as we discussed, most veterans do not report MST, so these forms of direct evidence rarely exist in MST cases. When military records contain no direct evidence of military sexual trauma, you can supply indirect evidence to support your claim.
How to Report Experiences of MST
As noted, direct evidence can be the best evidence, but often, reporting MST experiences to superior officers can be difficult, whether due to complicity or fear of blowback. The United States Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response provides a variety of resources to report MST. Whether or not your MST was reported, a denied claim can lead to time-consuming delays in receiving the benefits you deserve.
Betrayal of Valor
An exposé of a horribly flawed veteran’s administration
Indirect evidence of MST
Under 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(5),
If a posttraumatic stress disorder claim is based on in-service personal assault, evidence from sources other than the veteran’s service records may corroborate the veteran’s account of the stressor incident. . . Evidence of behavior changes following the claimed assault is one type of relevant evidence that may be found in these sources. Examples of behavior changes that may constitute credible evidence of the stressor include, but are not limited to: a request for a transfer to another military duty assignment. . .
Indirect evidence includes evidence of MST “markers,” behavioral changes that are associated with MST, including records and statements from family or friends showing:
- Unexplained positive diagnostic tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Positive pregnancy test results
- Development of a drug or alcohol problem
- Primary relationship difficulties (break up, divorce)
- Development of mental or physical health problems
- Counselor or therapist reports of suicidal thoughts, sexual dysfunction
- Sudden social behavioral changes (isolation from friends or family)
- Evidence of past reactions to trauma
- Sudden work performance problems
- Sudden disciplinary problems during service (physical violence, frequent unauthorized absences, going AWOL)
- Evidence of sudden behavioral changes during service (frequent requests for transfer, social isolation, anger outbursts, unexplained anxiety or depression, the onset of heavy drinking or illicit substance use to self-medicate)
To establish a service connection for MST, you must combine the above evidence with a diagnosis of any of the associated health conditions listed above. A medical nexus letter can help associate your mental or physical health condition with military sexual trauma, demonstrating that your symptoms match the profile of an MST victim.