Although it’s true that the majority of military sexual trauma (MST) cases involve female victims, this doesn’t mean that men can’t be affected. Approximately 1% of all male Veterans report experiencing some form of MST—including sexual harassment, sexually-oriented hazing activities, sexual assault, and rape. The actual number of male Veterans experiencing MST is likely much higher, however. Most victims don’t report their attacks due to stigma or fear of damage to their career and personal reputation.
As a male victim of MST, it’s important to understand how to protect your right to VA disability benefits so you can have access to the resources you need to begin the healing process. While MST is not a compensable disability on its own, a diagnosis of a mental health disorder related to MST qualifies you for VA disability benefits providing cash compensation and access to medical care.
Establishing a Service Connection
If you didn’t report your MST when it occurred, you may wonder how to establish a service connection for your condition. However, the VA does not require that your military records contain evidence of MST to receive disability benefits.
If you have it available, you can submit “marker” evidence such as:
- Personal journal entries
- Statements from family, friends, counselors, clergy, or others you confided in
- Tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Documented transfer requests
In the absence of other supporting evidence, you can submit a statement from a mental health provider stating that they believe your diagnosis is caused by MST. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has upheld that this is sufficient to establish a service connection.
Your gender is not a factor in establishing a service connection for MST. The same rules and procedures apply to both male and female Veterans.
Documenting Your Condition
In addition to establishing a service connection, you need to submit evidence of a disability and its severity. The most common disabilities associated with MST are depression and PTSD. The following is a brief overview:
- Depression. Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, difficulty focusing, and general feelings of low energy are some of the most common signs of depression. Ratings for this disability are based on the symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Under the General Rating Formula for Mental Health Conditions found under 38 CFR § 4.130, you can receive ratings of 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is characterized by flashbacks of the traumatic event, intrusive thoughts, and emotional detachment. As with depression, the VA uses the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders under 38 CFR § 4.130 to assign the appropriate disability rating. PTSD can be rated at 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%.
Sometimes, Veterans with depression or PTSD have additional mental health disorders with overlapping symptoms. However, because the VA uses the same rating schedule for all mental health disorders, a Veteran will receive one disability rating that describes all of their mental health conditions.
Although you may find it difficult to talk about how the trauma you suffered has affected your daily life, it’s important to provide honest and detailed answers in your application for benefits. Painting an accurate picture of your condition will help you receive the highest possible disability rating.
Receiving TDIU for MST
It can be quite difficult to obtain a 100% rating for a mental health disorder, even when your symptoms significantly impact your day-to-day life. However, if your condition makes it impossible to maintain substantially gainful employment, you may be eligible for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits. Veterans who receive TDIU receive compensation at the rate of a person who is considered 100% disabled under schedular criteria.
Substantially gainful employment is defined as working at a position that earns more than a poverty-level wage and does not provide additional accommodations for your disability. Thus, Veterans who are self-employed, working in sheltered employment, or who only work on an intermittent or part-time basis may still qualify for benefits.
Speak to an Experienced Veterans Benefits Attorney
Our experienced attorneys are here to help you access 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.