Sexual assault happens in the military at about the same rate as in the general public. The government says it is cracking down on sexual assault and harassment in the military, which it calls military sexual trauma (MST). But what help is available for veterans who experienced sexual assault during military service and live with emotional health issues as a result? The VA has to help with mental health services and compensation for specific diagnoses, regardless of whether you reported the sexual trauma when it occurred.
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In this article about military sexual assault VA benefits
More than 6,000 people reported being sexually assaulted during their military service in 2020, according to the Department of Defense’s most recent Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The DoD didn’t publish the report in 2021 because of COVID-19.
The assaults, which occurred to both men and women, were more than the previous year’s report. The number has more than doubled in less than a decade.
The DoD uses “sexual assault” as a catchall phrase for types of nonconsensual touching including rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, aggravated or abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses. But it does not include sexual harassment that doesn’t result in nonconsensual touch.
Given the underreported nature of sex crimes and the failure to include non-physical sexual harassment, the DoD report underrepresents the number of cases that may result in MST.
So, what should you do if you survived sexual assault during your military service? Can you receive compensation for your trauma? Military Sexual Trauma benefits are available to veterans who were assaulted while in the military and experience adverse health consequences as a result. This post explains more.
What is Military Sexual Trauma?
Military sexual trauma is the VA’s term for sexual assault or sexual harassment during military service. It’s an umbrella term for any non-consensual sexual encounter.
By VA disability law, military sexual trauma includes:
- Being pressured into sexual activity (through threats or promises of better treatment)
- Sexual touch or activities without consent (including when asleep or intoxicated)
- Rape by force
- Being hazed in a sexual way
- Threatening comments that are sexual in nature
- Unwanted sexual advances
About 1-in-3 women and 1-in-50 men report having experienced MST, according to the VA’s data. But the data is known to under-represent the prevalence of sexual harassment that occurs in the military.
The power dynamic that puts subordinates in a vulnerable position is a pervasive part of military culture and a huge factor in military sexual harassment. It gives superiors discretion over service members’ careers, promotions, assignments, and requests for leave time, etc. This power dynamic discourages reporting of sexual assault or harassment and protects people in positions of power. Service members may experience negative emotional fallout, even years later, as a result of this harassment, fear for their safety, and concern for experiences vital to them and their careers.
“Verbal harassment at a duty station over time can wear down a service member’s sense of self-worth and identity,” said Zack Evans, a VA-certified disability benefits lawyer. “Not only does this represent a danger to the operational integrity of the unit, but also a threat to the individual’s health, sense of safety, and trust in their comrades.”
The Impact of Military Sexual Trauma
Military sexual trauma can negatively affect the survivor’s mental and physical health, during and immediately after the physical assault or emotional sexual harassment and well into the future.
Survivors of sexual assault commonly experience mental health issues, including:
Mental health professionals typically treat the emotional fallout resulting from sexual trauma to help the survivor cope with what happened to them. If left untreated with therapy, a survivor’s symptoms are likely to worsen and lead to other mental health disorders.
How to service connect military sexual trauma
The VA provides free treatment for physical or mental health conditions resulting from MST. If you don’t have a VA healthcare provider, you can contact your local VA’s MST coordinator to arrange treatment.
You don’t need to have documented the MST experience when it occurred to qualify for free care. You also don’t need a VA disability rating to receive care.
“MST stressors are uniquely challenging events to corroborate. This is because survivors of these events often feel a fear or a shame that may delay or prevent reporting altogether,” attorney Zack Evans said. “Additionally, the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy kept many victims of same-sex assault from speaking out for fear of being kicked out of the military completely.”
But a federal appeals court ruled in 2013 that the VA isn’t allowed to deny your claim because you were too afraid to report it at the time or because the military had a policy in place that effectively threatened your job if you did so, Evans said.
“Absence of service records is not a valid grounds for denial, and a veteran’s failure to report at the time is not valid grounds for denial,” he said.
You can file a disability compensation claim for any health condition you have because of MST. You will need to link the physical or mental health condition with MST.
The VA offers the following examples of the types of evidence that can be used to support a disability claim related to MST.
|Circumstance related to MST||Potential evidence to support an MST disability claim|
|To establish service connection||A service medical or personnel record documenting the MST event|
A DoD sexual assault or harassment reporting form
Investigation reports completed during military service
|If you have PTSD as a result of sexual trauma||A statement from a religious leader|
A statement or medical report from a doctor or mental health professional
Documentation from a rape crisis center
A police report
Statements from loved ones or fellow service members who are familiar with what happened and how it affected you
Personal journal entries
|If service records or alternative sources of evidence are unavailable, you can use behavioral evidence that shows the impact of the MST||Anxiety|
Pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease tests
Requests for military duty transfer
Unexplained social or economic behavior
How to get VA disability benefits for military sexual trauma
For the VA to consider disability benefits for military sexual trauma, you must file a claim based on the emotional and physical impact of the MST. The VA will usually request a Compensation and Pension exam. The medical professional will run the appropriate tests based on your concern and ask you questions about the MST and your service. If the VA schedules an exam, you need to complete it to avoid denial of your claim.
You also can use a Disability Benefits Questionnaire to help your claim. A DBQ allows you to address symptoms, severity, possible causes, and how the condition may be related to other disabilities. A private physician also can complete the form for you.
Once the VA processes your claim for benefits, you will receive a confirmation or denial. If the VA denies your benefits, you may want to file an appeal. If you win your appeal, you should receive monthly compensation plus any back-dated benefits owed.
Woods and Woods can help
If you’re experiencing mental or physical health issues because of military sexual trauma, you deserve VA disability compensation. Contact Woods and Woods to file an initial claim or appeal a rating decision. You don’t have to seek the help you deserve alone.
Talk to Us About Your Claim: (866) 232-5777
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, it’s not necessary to have reported the sexual assault when it occurred for you to service connect it.
Yes, you can. Verbal sexual harassment, including that perpetrated by a superior, is considered military sexual trauma and can result in mental health concerns.