Most people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as being related to combat injuries or exposure to continued violence. However, military sexual trauma (MST) is a known cause of PTSD in Veterans—especially in women.
Defining Military Sexual Trauma
Military sexual trauma can take many forms while an individual is on federal active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. These include:
- Insulting sexual comments or comments about a person's body
- Continued sexual harassment
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Being threatened with discipline or other negative professional consequences for refusing to engage in sexual activity
- Sexual assault
Although any form of sexual trauma has lasting repercussions for a victim's mental health, MST is particularly problematic because the aggressor is a person with whom the victim must continue to work with on a regular basis. In some cases, the aggressor may even be a superior officer who has the authority to influence the trajectory of the victim's career. Because of their service, victims are also isolated from friends and family who would normally be able to provide emotional support.
It is estimated that one in four female Veterans and one in 100 male Veterans have experienced MST. However, it's impossible to obtain precise statistics because many victims never file a formal report due to shame, fear, embarrassment, or concern that they won't be believed by others. In particular, gender role stereotypes and misconceptions about the long-term effects of sexual trauma lead to many men choosing to remain silent.
PTSD and MST
Although sexual trauma is the type of non-combat PTSD stressor that is most likely to result in severe consequences to a Veteran's mental health, winning VA disability benefits isn't easy. Skilled legal representation is vital.
To receive VA benefits for PTSD, you must be able to connect your condition to your military service. Since MST is often unreported or reported many years after the fact, the VA allows evidence of "markers" to build a circumstantial case. This might include:
- Pregnancy tests and/or tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Records from crisis centers, hospitals, counseling centers, or law enforcement.
- Supportive statements from roommates, friends, counselors, celery, or fellow service members
- Requests for a different work assignment
- Documented decline in work performance
Another challenge in winning PTSD benefits involves defining how the condition affects a Veteran's everyday life. Sexual trauma can cause a wide range of symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, angry outbursts, feelings of numbness, and difficulty concentrating. Sexual difficulties, problems in intimate relationships, and eating disorders are also common. Being completely honest with your care providers—even when your symptoms are difficult to discuss—is essential to ensure that your condition is fully documented.
Including Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
PTSD is well-known to increase a Veteran's risk of developing other serious health conditions. Some of the many conditions that may be connected to your PTSD include:
- Substance abuse disorders, including alcohol abuse or opioid use disorders
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD, acid reflux, or heartburn)
- Sleep apnea
To maximize your monthly compensation, you should discuss all of your medical conditions with your attorney. Including all of your secondary service-connected disabilities is especially important if you are unable to work and are seeking Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits.
Refiling a Previously Denied Claim
The VA did not demonstrate a broad awareness of the impact of MST until 2011. If you were denied benefits prior to the relaxing of evidence rules in 2011, taking the time to refile may result in an approval. Prior to 2011, MST PTSD claims were approved at half the rate of those with combat stressors for PTSD. Today, however, the claims are both approved at roughly the same rate.
Let Us Help You Get the VA Disability Benefits You Deserve
If you're struggling with service-connected PTSD related to military sexual trauma and having trouble accessing your VA disability benefits, our Veteran's benefits attorney can help. Call the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation. You've served your country with honor, and it's our turn to serve you.