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Military Sexual Trauma VA Disability

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses the term "military sexual trauma" or MST to refer to experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment that occur during military service.

If you were a victim of this type of trauma during your time in the military, you could be eligible for compensation. The VA awards disability benefits for MST in certain situations, especially if has led to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or another condition that hinders your ability to work and provide for your family.

While these claims are substantiated, they are often denied. A veterans disability lawyer can help you fight for your rights and understand what's at stake. Read below for more information on veteran sexual trauma disability, what benefits you can receive, and how to fight a denied VA claim.

What Is Military Sexual Trauma?

If you were involved in any sexual activity against your will while you were in the military, it would fall under the category of MST. Some of the most common examples of MST include:

  • Being pressured into sexual activity (e.g. threats of negative treatment for non-compliance or promises of favorable treatment for compliance)
  • Being physically forced into having sex
  • Engaging in sexual activities against your expressed consent (e.g. when you were intoxicated or asleep)
  • Fielding threatening comments about your body or sexual activities
  • Being touched in a way that made you feel uncomfortable
  • Receiving unwanted, threatening sexual advances

While it's more prevalent in females, military sexual trauma and harassment can affect both male and female service members. According to VA data, 32.4% of female veterans experience MST, while 4.8% of male veterans do. It's also more common in younger individuals, affecting 22.8% of veterans aged 18 to 29 years and 4.5% of veterans 60 years old or older.

The Prevalence of MST

Sexual violence of all kinds is all too common in the military, though it rarely gets the recognition it deserves. Often, this type of assault is swept under the rug by commanding officers or dismissed by the very medical professionals the VA hires to protect service members.

To receive a VA disability rating, veterans must have evidence of an in-service injury. This is where this subject matter gets gray. While there might be concrete documents and medical records depicting another type of injury, sexual trauma often goes unreported, usually due to the victim's fear of repercussions. In fact, 76% of MST incidents are not reported to law enforcement.

Thus, there aren't always obvious markers demonstrating that such damage occurred. Instead, the VA looks for more subtle types of evidence that a veteran endured military sexual trauma (MST). Some of those signs include:

  • Requests transfer to another assignment
  • Loss of respect for service
  • Falling behind in work performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Episodes of depression and anxiety
  • Relationship issues
  • Economic or social changes

If there are documents pertaining to the event, they are most often in the form of reports made to local rape crisis centers, or personal statements from the victim, as well as their close friends and family members.

Left untreated, military sexual trauma can lead to a range of physical and mental health conditions. From mental illness and depression to homelessness and substance abuse, the effects are real and should be taken seriously.

The link between mst and ptsd

There is no VA rating specifically and directly for military sexual trauma. On its own, the VA does not consider military sexual trauma to be a debilitating condition. However, the agency does recognize that it can be a service-connected stressor event that could eventually lead to PTSD.

A service-connected condition is one that the VA recognizes as linked to the patient's military service. If you're found to have one of these conditions, you could be eligible for veterans disability compensation and other PTSD disability benefits from the VA. You could also qualify for other medical benefits.

If you experienced MST and later developed symptoms of PTSD, you may be eligible to receive monthly disability compensation and benefits. PTSD refers to changes that occur in your brain chemistry following a sustained period of elevated stress hormones and adrenaline levels. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Traumatic flashbacks
  • Panic attacks
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anger issues
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Depression
  • Social avoidance

Individuals are more likely to experience PTSD from their military sexual trauma (MST) if they have a history of depression or anxiety. They're also more susceptible to this condition if they were not able to fully heal and process what happened at the time of the event. If you were coerced into silence or no one believed you when you talked about the traumatic experiences to your close friends and family members, it could trigger PTSD symptoms down the road.

Proving Your MST Claim

As mentioned, the VA has different evidentiary requirements when it comes to claims of MST. While you might worry that your lack of records will get your claim thrown out immediately, this isn't usually the case.

The VA cannot deny a PTSD claim on the grounds that service records are absent. The VA also cannot penalize you for failing to report the event at the time because you were afraid.

You don't need a police report detailing the event to qualify for compensation and other benefits, and the incident(s) don't have to be included in your official service records. However, there are a few pieces of information that the VA will want to receive, including:

  • A current PTSD (or related mental/physical condition) diagnosis from your physician
  • Evidence that the incident occurred or that your behavior changed afterward
  • A Nexus Letter from your physician confirming that your diagnosis relates to the MST that occurred while you were on active duty

VA Resources and Benefits For MST Survivors

VA notes on its website that they provide multiple free resources for veteran survivors of MST. Specifically, the VA's services include:

  • “MST coordinator at every VA medical facility to serve as a contact person for MST-related issues and who can assist you in accessing care
  • MST-related outpatient services at every VA medical center and many VA community-based outpatient clinics
  • Mental health services, including psychological assessment and evaluation, medication evaluation and treatment, and individual and group psychotherapy for mental conditions associated with MST, like:
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Substance use problems
  • MST-related outpatient counseling through VA’s community-based Vet Centers
  • MST-related treatment in VA’s residential (live-in) or inpatient programs for individuals who need more intensive treatment and support.”

The VA also provides useful resources and contacts for sexual trauma veterans victims who have been harassed or assaulted at a VA facility. These resources include sexual assault programs, 24/7 Help Lines, and veteran's recovery assessments.

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Understanding the Military Sexual Trauma Disability Rating

The VA awards benefits based on a condition's associated disability rating. For PTSD, the rating goes from 0% to 100% and breaks at 10%, 30%, 50%, and 70%.

While a 100% rating is typically rare, you could receive up to 70% if your MST-induced PTSD makes it difficult to maintain a job or provide for your family. If your condition prevents you from earning an income altogether, you can claim Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).

The veteran experiences complete occupational and social impairment due to symptoms such as persistent hallucinations, delusions, thoughts of self-harm or hurting others, extreme memory loss, inappropriate behavior, disorientation to time or place, and/or inability to perform regular daily activities such as personal hygiene.

Veterans experience substantial occupational and social impairment in most areas— such as work, school, family relationships, clear judgment, thinking, and mood. Symptoms include suicidal thoughts, panic or depression affecting their ability to function independently, obsessive rituals that interfere with daily activities, obscure or irrelevant speech, impaired adaptation to stressful circumstances, and/or inability to establish or maintain relationships.

Veterans experience occupational and social impairment, causing reduced reliability and productivity. These symptoms may include a lack of expressed emotion (referred to as flattened affect), frequent panic attacks more than once per week, stereotyped speech, difficulty understanding complex commands, impaired judgment and memory, impaired abstract thinking, and/or disturbances in mood and motivation.

Veterans experience occupational and social impairment characterized by a decrease in work efficiency and occasional periods of inability to perform types of occupational tasks due to symptoms such as depressed mood, anxiety, suspiciousness, sleep impairment, mild memory loss, and panic attacks that occur weekly or less often.

The veteran's condition causes impairment due to mild or transient symptoms that are triggered only during high-stress periods but are typically well-controlled via medication.

The veteran has been formally diagnosed with a service-connected mental health condition. Still, it has been determined that the condition does not produce significant impairment in occupational or social functioning.

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Fight for the VA Benefits You Deserve

If you are a veteran who has experienced military sexual trauma (MST), you deserve compensation for the suffering you've had to endure. By filing a claim with the VA, you can take a major step toward justice.

Not only can VA benefits help you address and heal from your injuries, but they also give you the assurance that the government believes you, and wants to work to protect you. At Wettermark Keith Veterans Attorneys, our legal team of veterans disability lawyers can help you fight for your rights and benefits every step of the way.

To file a claim or make an appeal, contact us today for a free consultation.

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