Military Sexual Trauma
It’s a sad truth that a significant number of veterans experienced sexual trauma during their service in the military. It’s a big enough issue that the VA has given it a name—Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Generally speaking, MST is defined as sexual assault (up to and including rape) or repetitive, threatening, or coercive sexual harassment. If you were a victim of MST, in addition to the initial trauma, you may find that it has continued to impact you in psychological and physical ways.
If there’s any kind of silver lining here, it’s this: If you suffered MST and it impacts your current life, you may be eligible for disability compensation from the VA. As with other service-related disabilities, you still need to have three elements to prove your case. These are:
You experienced MST while on active duty.
You are currently diagnosed with a mental or physical disability/disabilities, and
Your current mental or physical disability/disabilities were caused by, or were worsened by, the MST you suffered in service.
In other words, as with other service related disabilities, the MST by itself is not a basis for receiving compensation. You must have a compensable health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or substance abuse that can be connected to the MST.
MST includes instances of any sexual activity where someone is involved against his/her will. This includes not only physical force but also coercive threats—such as threats abusing the chain of command (e.g., threats of negative performance reviews or, conversely, promises of faster promotions)—or instances where a service member was unable to consent. Other forms of MST can include patterns of unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate physical contact, or offensive or harassing language about your body or sexual activities. Additionally, there may be instances of retaliation that occur after such an event is reported—assuming that it was reported at all.
Unfortunately, there may not be many records of such an event (or events). Not only has there been a stigma against such reporting but there may also be a gap in time between the event and when it is ultimately reported. Fortunately, the VA understands this and makes some allowances for the potential lack of medical or military records related to MST. Other forms of proof of the incident or incidents that the VA will consider include:
Records from a rape crisis center.
Pregnancy tests/records of pregnancy tests.
Records of sexually transmitted diseases.
Statements from your friends in service, counselors, or clergy.
Writings in a journal, diary, or personal correspondence at the time of the MST.
Indirect evidence that might be considered includes things that changed after MST. For example:
A request for a transfer after the MST.
Evidence of a drug or alcohol problem that didn’t previously exist.
Marital difficulties that didn’t exist prior to the MST.
A sudden decrease in job performance for which there is no other explanation.
Because we’re dealing with the VA, of course, nothing is guaranteed. If you’ve made a claim based on MST and the VA has denied it, you, of course, have the option to appeal that decision. The goal of a successful appeal is to make it as easy as possible for the VA to say, “Yes.” In MST cases, mounting a successful appeal may hinge upon collecting and framing the evidence in the best possible way. Because of the special nature of cases involving MSTs, it’s a good idea to seek legal help. We at The Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are uniquely qualified to assist you with sensitive cases of this type. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.