An Introduction to MST
Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”) cases are some of the most difficult, yet rewarding, cases that we work on. While we 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 we re 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) Healthcare for Mental and Physical Conditions related to Military Sexual Trauma
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
We 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 we re 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.
Physical Contact Is Not Required to Prove MST
This blog is one part of a three-part series on the common myths surrounding Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”). Please see Part 2 for a discussion of men and MST, and Part 3 (link to part 3) for a discussion of MST and disability benefits. For general information on MST, please see our Introduction to MST here.
DOD's Definition of MST Differs From VA's
Many people are under the mistaken impression that Military Sexual Trauma (“MST”) requires physical contact. This confusion is furthered by the fact that the Department of Defense (“DoD”) defines “Unwanted Sexual Contact” (“USC”) as “intentional sexual contact that was against a person’s will or occurred when the person did not or could not consent. The term describes completed and attempted oral, anal, and vaginal penetration with any body part or object, and the unwanted touching of genitalia and other sexually related areas of the body.” However, USC and MST are not the same thing, and MST absolutely does not require physical contact.
The True Definition of MST For VA Compensation Cases
The Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) defines MST as “psychological trauma resulting from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment [emphasis added] which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.” Sexual harassment is defined as "repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical [emphasis added] contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.” The VA has stated that, in addition to physical sexual assault such as rape and unwanted touching, this definition encompasses a wide swath of nonphysical harassment, including but not limited to being threatened with negative consequences for refusing to participate in sexual behavior, express or implied promises of faster promotions in exchange for sexual behavior, offensive remarks about one’s body, and unwelcome or threatening sexual advances.
Get Help With Your VA MST Claim Today
For additional resources check out:
- Dispelling the Myths of MST
- Dispelling the Myths of MST Part II
- Dispelling the Myths of MST Part III
If you feel you are a victim of MST and you suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression or something else, you may be eligible for disability benefits as we ll as free health care for all MST-related issues through the VA. While the process of obtaining MST-related benefits should be easy, it is often extremely challenging and having an experienced attorney on your side is crucial. Regardless of where you are in the appeals process, we can help you to get the benefits you deserve. If your case has been denied, please contact us for a free consultation.