As a leading cause of debilitating mental and physical health conditions, military sexual trauma (MST) can lead to life-altering social and occupational impairment.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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
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.
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.
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How to win military MST disability claims?
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.
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.
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VA Disability Claims & Appeals Guide
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.