It is a common myth that "markers" of a military sexual trauma (MST) occurring in service or official reports of an MST are absolutely necessary to support a claim for PTSD caused by MST. If you are seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD caused by MST, there are several different types of evidence that can be used to support your claim—even if you didn’t report the incident when it first occurred.
Delayed Reporting Is Common
As with sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape that occurs in a civilian context, it’s common for survivors of military sexual trauma to not report their attack at first. The reasons for this are complex but may include:
- The Veteran feels ashamed and embarrassed.
- The Veteran feels guilty because they believe they should have been able to prevent the incident.
- The Veteran worries about being judged by others.
- The Veteran worries they won’t be believed.
- The Veteran is worried about retaliation from a commanding officer.
- The Veteran doesn’t understand the reporting process.
- The Veteran doesn’t have faith that the perpetrator will be held accountable.
- The Veteran wants to try to forget the incident and move on with their life.
Using Circumstantial "Marker" Evidence to Build Your Case
If you didn’t report the MST when it first occurred, you could use what the VA refers to as “markers” to support your claim for benefits. Markers are a type of circumstantial evidence that helps corroborate your account of the trauma that caused your PTSD. For example:
- Records of a visit to a healthcare provider for STD testing or a pregnancy test
- Records of contact with a counselor, clergy, or rape crisis center
- Statements from family or friends whom you confided in
- Documentation of sudden shifts in your behavior, such as problems with substance abuse or panic attacks
- Service records indicating a decline in your work performance or a request for a transfer to another unit
This type of evidence is helpful, but the VA now recognizes that a Veteran may not be able to provide marker evidence in every case.
Other Non-Marker Evidence That Can Support Your Case
If you don't have any of the "marker" evidence listed above to corroborate an MST stressor, you can still win service connection. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has held that a mental health provider's opinion that your current diagnosis of PTSD is related to an MST that occurred in service can support a claim for PTSD based on MST, even without corroborating marker evidence. The common belief that marker evidence is required in every case is a myth.
If you have an opinion from a mental health provider that your PTSD stems from an MST, but the VA still denied your claim, contact our office today to find out how we can assist in arguing your appeal. In some cases, we may be able to help you develop this type of mental health expert opinion to support your claim.
How Your Medical Records Affect Your Claim
Documenting the severity of your PTSD symptoms is essential to maximizing your disability rating. Opinions from psychologists or psychiatrists will carry more weight than those from counselors or therapists due to their added professional training. Ideally, you want to submit a nexus letter from someone with extensive experience helping survivors of sexual trauma.
Request to Speak to an Experienced Veterans Benefits Attorney Today
The process of filing for VA disability benefits for PTSD caused by MST can feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone. Our experienced Veterans benefits attorneys can provide the support and guidance you need to protect your right to the benefits you’ve earned in the service of your country. Contact the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, to request a free, no-obligation consultation.