Understanding Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
An Introduction to MST
Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”) cases are some of the most difficult, yet rewarding, cases that I work on. While I have had the honor of advocating on behalf of many brave veterans who have survived MST, it has become clear in the course of my practice that there are still many MST survivors who, for one reason or another, are not getting the benefits they deserve. It is my hope that this blog will empower anyone who has suffered MST to come forward, claim the benefits they are entitled to, and get the help they need.
The VA's Definition of Military Sexual Trauma
MST is defined as “psychological trauma resulting from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.” Note that the definition includes “sexual harassment,” which means that even non-physical forms of harassment, such as verbal threats of unwanted sexual behavior or offensive remarks about one’s body, can also be the basis for MST. The VA often overlooks this fact and incorrectly develops the claim based on a physical assault analysis.
Victims of MST Include Men and Women
Both men and women are the victims of MST and both suffer from PTSD. In addition to female MST victims, we represent a number of males that were victims of sexual assault. Many veterans qualify for unemployment benefits (TDIU) as well after we win service-connection for PTSD.
The Impacts of MST
Those who have been the victims of MST experience serious long-term consequences on their mental and physical health. According to the Battered Women’s Justice Project, MST survivors may experience anger, shame, anxiety, and depression among other challenging emotions. These emotions can lead to behavioral changes which may result in substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and suicide.
Veterans' Benefits for MST Survivors
MST survivors are entitled to two kinds of assistance: 1) health care for mental and physical conditions related to MST; and 2) VA compensation benefits.
Health care for conditions related to MST is available to MST survivors at all VA medical centers. It is provided free of charge, and MST survivors do not need to show a service-connected disability to qualify.
To qualify for disability benefits, on the other hand, a veteran must show a diagnosed disability, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) that was caused by the MST. In other words, MST is the stressor that led to the PTSD. If a veteran does not have a diagnosis, or the medical evidence is lacking, we help obtain the missing evidence to support a grant and win the appeal. Sometimes this is simply working with the veteran’s current medical providers, or finding an outside expert who understands MST and can provide the evidence the VA needs to grant the claim.
VA Compensation Claims Based on MST (PTSD) are Frustrating
I wish the process of obtaining VA compensation for veterans claiming MST was straightforward, but, it isn’t. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), Regional Offices (“RO’s”) – particularly those in St. Paul, Detroit and St. Louis – tend to discriminate against disability claims based on MST. In fact, they found that between 2008 and 2012, MST-related PTSD claims were granted up to 29.6% less often than other PTSD claims. Further, veterans who continue to fight for their benefits by filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims (CAVC) often wait several years for a decision. These roadblocks among others make it tremendously important to have an experienced lawyer at your side as you apply for your benefits.
If You Need Help or Want to Explore Your Options – Please Reach Out
If you have not filed for VA compensation yet, I encourage you to do so, hopefully you will not need our help. If you have been denied by RO or the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), we can help you receive the benefits you deserve. I strive to be a kind and compassionate ear that you can trust, while providing assurances that I am zealous advocate dedicated to the pursuit of justice on your behalf.
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