Military Sexual Trauma
VA Healthcare & Benefits
Survivors of MST with psychological or physical injuries may be eligible for VA Benefits
Key Topics On this Page
Key Veterans Benefits
Requesting VA and Military Records
Cultural Competence Tips for Working with Veterans
Intake Interviews: Best Practices
How to Apply for VA Disability Compensation
DOD Safe Helpline connects MST survivors with confidential, anonymous and secure online or telephonic services by phone at (877) 995-5247 or online. Counselors on the Safe Helpline can help connect the survivor with DOD and/or civilian services.
What is Military Sexual Trauma?
Can veterans receive a diagnosis of "Military Sexual Trauma"?
No. Military Sexual Trauma is considered an "experience" by the VA, rather than a diagnosis. Veterans must prove a psychological or physical injury or illness caused by the military sexual trauma to receive service-connected benefits.
What psychological and physical injuries can MST cause?
MST is like any other trauma in that it can cause a wide range of psychological and physical issues, some of which may not be immediately apparent to the survivor or advocates. There may also be no diagnosable mental or physical conditions, and advocates should be careful to not assume that a veteran who experienced MST has any physical or mental health condition due to the experience.
Veteran survivors of military sexual trauma may be eligible for:
Free treatment at the VA for any resulting mental and physical disabilities
Disability Compensation for conditions caused by the military sexual trauma
Specialized services at the VA and in the community
Note: The veteran may also need protection from the perpetrator(s) or referrals to other community organizations.
VA Healthcare for MST-Caused Injuries
- Veterans should not forego valuable treatment from an MST or women's trauma VA program prior to, and/or during the period of applying for VA disability compensation.
- In order to assist with their claim, veterans should request complete copies of service medical records and personnel records.
- Veterans should ensure medical professionals complete the Disability Benefits Questionnaire.
- Statements from family members, clergy, and medical professionals are significant to this process, and can help a veteran succeed on their appeal, but can also help the veteran get care and counseling services they are entitled to.
- Trauma-focused treatment provides the best chances of meaningful treatment for MST survivors.
How many veterans report “yes” to experiencing MST?
1 in 4 women
1 in 100 men
VA Benefits for Veterans who Qualify for Assistance
A veteran who has successfully screened for MST has various resources available to them, free of charge:
- Outpatient Care, including mental health services & medication;
- Residential/Inpatient Care for more intensive services also includes gender specific treatment settings;
- MST Coordinators are available at VA health care facilities to assist with/coordinate MST-related treatment and services;
- Quick Facts About VA’s Health Care Services for Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Additional Resources for Veterans:
- Military One Source: Veterans who were medically discharged and are being treated through a wounded warrior or seriously ill and injured program or veterans who retired or were honorably discharged within the past 180 days are eligible for confidential help and information through Military One Source at (800) 342-9647 or through their website at http://www.militaryonesource.mil/sexual-assault.
- DOD Safe Helpline: connects MST survivors with confidential, anonymous and secure online or telephonic services by phone at (877) 995-5247 or online at https://www.safehelpline.org/. Counselors on the Safe Helpline can help connect the survivor with DOD and/or civilian services.
- Make the Connection: a website with a video gallery of veterans sharing their stories of MST, is available at http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/military-sexual-trauma#6.
VA Disability Compensation and MST
Disability Compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit that is paid to veterans with disabilities as a result of disease or injury that either were incurred, or aggravated, during active military service.
Can veterans who have PTSD based on MST qualify for Disability Compensation?
The military recognizes that many veterans have experienced sexual trauma during active military service. These experiences can have a variety of affects on a Veteran, including mental and physical health, many years later. Because of this, veterans can apply for disability compensation for any current difficulties that are related to their service, including those related to MST.
The VA offers additional information for MST survivors who apply for Disability Compensation.
Basic Qualifications for Disability Compensation
Regardless of the specific reason a veteran is applying for disability compensation, there are five basic qualifications a veteran must first meet:
- Veteran status (discussed in further detail at Understanding Statutory Definitions of Veteran)
- Existence of a disability
- A connection between the veteran’s service and the disability
- Degree of disability
- Effective date of the disability
Submitting a Claim
The steps for submitting a claim for disability compensation for PTSD based on MST are similar to applying for disability compensation for any other disability, with the exception of the addition of a specific form.
1. Contact your regional office to determine if it is offering the "fast track" option: call 1-800-827-1000 or visit www.va.gov
2. Ways to Apply for Disability Compensation
- Fast track: if the regional office has implemented the VA's "fast track" program a veteran can apply using VA Form 21- 526EZ (this application can be electronically filled out on the computer and submitted electronically upon completion)
- Standard: If your regional office has not implemented the "fast track" program, a veteran can submit their claim utilizing VA Form 21-526 "Veteran's Application for Compensation and/or Pension Form"
- This form asks a claimant to provide personal and unit information, as well as specific information about the date, location, and description of the claimed in-service assault
Appealing a Denied Disability Compensation Claim for MST
- A veteran must file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), also known as a form VA Form 21-0958. Use of the NOD form is mandatory.
- The VARO will consider the NOD and render a decision - the decision will come in the form of an SOC, "Statement of the Case." It is not uncommon for this phase to take as long as 500 days.
- If the veteran disagrees with the SOC, s/he may appeal to the VA's Decision Review Officer (DRO), who will conduct a brand new review of the claim and subsequently issue its own SOC. It is not uncommon for this phase of the appeal to take approximately 2-3 years.
- If the veteran disagrees with the DRO's Statement of the Case, the veteran may appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The veteran will have 60 days to file this "substantive appeal" to the BVA, and must use VA Form 9 to initiate this process.
Once a veteran has begun the appeals process, it is critical to understand what types of evidence can help substantiate a veterans' claim for PTSD as a result of MST. Continue reading below for further detail.
Important Deadlines For Appeal Process:
1. A veteran must initiate an appeal within 1 year from the date of the original letter the veteran received denying the claim. If the 1-year window is missed, a claimant can only reopen the claim with (1) new material evidence, or (2) establishing that the VA denial was due to clear and unmistakable error (this is a very difficult standard of proof).
2. A veteran must initiate an appeal to the VA's Decision Review Officer's Statement Of the Case within 60 days.
Standard of Evidence for Substantiating a Claim
When trying to substantiate a claim for PTSD as a result of MST, there are certain elements a veteran must be able to prove in order to meet the basic threshold for service connection for PTSD. Beyond that, there can be unique evidentiary barriers for a veteran trying to substantiate a claim for PTSD based on MST.
General Elements for Substantiating a Claim for PTSD:
- Medical evidence diagnosing the condition in accordance with 38 U.S.C. § 4.125(a)
- A link, established by medical evidence, between current symptoms and an in-service stressor
- Credible supporting evidence that the claimed in-service stressor occurred
Unique Barriers for MST-Based Benefits Claims
Advocates should be aware when encountering veterans who may have experienced MST that this may be the first time the veteran has come forward. Awareness of PTSD symptomology may be helpful in determining the veteran's needs and current capacity for involvement in the administrative process of obtaining VA Benefits. More information regarding Therapeutic Jurisprudence may be found here.
- If the VA determines a claimant did not engage in combat, lay testimony by the veteran will not be sufficient to establish that the "stressor" occurred. It must be corroborated by credible supporting evidence from other sources.
- While credible evident to support a veteran's claim of a stressor is required, "actual" proof is not necessary (i.e. a veteran may still succeed on their claim based on an in-service assault if an official police report was not filed, or there was never a medical exam following the assault).
Alternative Sources of Credible Supporting Evidence
- Veterans are able to submit alternative sources of evidence to corroborate the existence of their in-service assault. Permissible evidence is outlined in 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(5)
- Records from law enforcement authorities, including civilian police reports;
- Records from rape crisis centers or centers for domestic abuse;
- Records from mental health counseling centers, hospitals, health clinics, or physicians;
- Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases;
- Statements from family members, roommates, faculty members, fellow service members, or clergy;
- Medical reports from civilian physicians or caregivers who may have treated the veteran either immediately following the incident or sometime later; or
- Personal diaries or journals.
Behavior changes may also serve as evidence including:
- A request for a transfer to another military duty assignment;
- Deterioration in work performance;
- Substance abuse;
- Episodes of depression, panic attacks, or anxiety without an identifiable cause; or
- Unexplained economic or social behavior changes.
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