This blog is one part of a three-part series on the common myths surrounding Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”). Please see Part 1 to learn about what is required to show MST, and Part 2 for a discussion of men and MST.
Throughout my career as a Veterans’ compensation attorney, I have encountered a number of MST survivors who are unaware that they qualify for disability benefits. The confusion seems to lie in the way the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) grants disability benefits for MST. There is no MST claim per se, but, the VA grants Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), which is based on MST being the stressor.
Proving the MST Stressor
65% of men and 45.9% of women develop PTSD after experiencing sexual assault. According to the VA, a disability claim for MST-related PTSD can be supported in two ways: 1) If the events involving sexual trauma were reported, any forms relating to the report or the ensuing investigation can be used as evidence; or 2) If the events were not reported, the VA will accept indirect evidence, which they call “markers,” that provides “some indication that the traumatic event happened.” Some of the VA’s acceptable markers include the following:
- Records from law enforcement agencies, health professionals, or crisis centers.
- Pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted infections.
- Statements from family members or fellow Servicemembers.
- Evidence of work-related changes, such as a request for a transfer to another military duty assignment or deterioration in work performance.
- Unexplained changes in mental health, economic behaviors, or social behaviors.
In-Service Markers Help, But You Need to Advocate
Even if you are able to demonstrate one or many of the above markers, proving MST to VA is complicated by the fact that many VA offices (particularly the regional offices in St. Paul, MN, Detroit, MI, and St. Louis, MO) have established a pattern of discriminating against MST-related claims. Further, MST survivors who attempt to appeal the decision made by their regional office often wait several years before receiving a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. That is why it is essential that you have an experienced attorney on your side who can get you the benefits you deserve in a timely and efficient manner.