Relationship Between Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and PTSD

Military sexual trauma (MST) defined as sexual assault or sexual harassment against a service member in the armed forces, has historically been a serious problem that remains on the rise. The VA has denied many MST-related disability claims filed by veterans in the past. In fact, with increased public scrutiny of MST in recent years, the VA has wholly restructured how it handles MST claims to ensure fairness to the claimants. The VA even advises veterans who have received a denial of an MST-related claim before August 2018 to refile under their new process. 

What Qualifies as an MST-Related Claim?

Suppose you were the victim of a sexual assault/harassment while serving in the military. In that case, you may file for VA disability compensation for a current diagnosis of a disabling health condition related to your MST. MST by itself is not a diagnosis, but rather, it can lead to a variety of mental health or medical conditions. Examples of such conditions include depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or even a physical health diagnosis. PTSD is by far the most common diagnosis for a veteran who has experienced MST and is, therefore, the basis of the majority of MST-related claims. 

For any MST-related claim, you must show service connection by providing evidence that you have a current disabling health condition and that an MST incident occurred during your military service that caused or aggravated your current disabling health condition. You can submit service treatment or military personnel records that document MST, Department of Defense (DoD) reporting forms on sexual assault or harassment, or investigative reports into MST during military service.

Evidence Needed to Support an MST-Related PTSD Claim

When a veteran claims service connection for MST-Related PTSD, they must provide credible evidence to support their assertion the MST occurred. The VA acknowledges that military members often do not report an MST while in service, which may make it more difficult to prove the incident occurred. Therefore, if you are explicitly claiming MST-related PTSD, you are permitted to submit alternative sources of evidence to corroborate the MST, such as records other than service records from various sources such as clergy, family members, friends,  mental health treatment, or counseling. You may also submit evidence of changes in your life or behavior after the MST incident, such as changes in work performance, relationship issues, or requests for military reassignment. Additional examples of evidence you may submit can be found in the statute 38 C.F.R. 3.304(f)(5). Furthermore, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has held that a qualified examiner’s opinion can be considered credible supporting evidence for the occurrence of an MST. VA adjudicators often get this wrong. 

Appeals for MST-Related and MST-Related PTSD Claims

Although the VA system has improved with respect to handling MST-related and MST-related PTSD claims, it has a long way to go. Each year, the VA continues to deny many of these types of claims. The top reasons for denial are insufficient evidence of the MST incident or that a disabling health condition resulted from the incident. 

Once you receive a decision letter on your disability claim, you have one year from the date of that letter to file an appeal of a denial or a low rating. A denial of your claim is undoubtedly frustrating, but it is not the end of the line. There are still many steps that you may take to change the VA’s decision. This is exactly when it is time to consult with a law firm with extensive experience handling denials of claims for disabling conditions such as PTSD resulting from an MST. 

Contact a MST Lawyer at Gang & Associates

Claims resulting from an MST are undoubtedly one of the most complex areas of VA disability law and are not always easy to prove. Gang & Associates is well-versed in all nuances of the VA claims system, and we are well-known for winning the most complicated cases on appeal. Contact us for a free evaluation of your case at your earliest convenience.