Sexual assaults can happen to anyone at any time in any place. Sadly, this includes the US military. Many victims are hesitant to report sexual assault due to fear or embarrassment; however, in recent years sexual assault in the military has been exposed as a major issue. While it is still estimated that many cases of sexual assault in the military go vastly unreported, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has started to offer disability benefits for sexual trauma. For help with filing a military sexual trauma claim, connect with an attorney who is well-versed in the VA claims process.
The VA’s official term for these events is “military sexual trauma” (MST). The VA defines MST as sexual assault or repetitive, threatening sexual harassment. Circumstances that typically qualify as sexual assault are:
Reporting military sexual trauma allows a servicemember to pursue justice for what happened to them. Any person experiencing sexual assault or harassment in the military has the right to report this sexual trauma.
Since there is no “right” time to report sexual trauma within the ranks of the United States military, there is no deadline for reporting MST. The allegations are treated the same regardless of whether they are made on the date the attack or at a later date.
The method of reporting MST will depend on the details of the situation. If the circumstances of the assault remain volatile, the most important step is for a servicemember to remove themselves from the situation and seek medical treatment as needed.
There are a number of ways to report military sexual trauma, starting with informing a direct superior in the chain of command. However, there are also a number of confidential options for reporting sexual assault. The Department of Defense operates a crisis intervention hotline known as the DoD Safe Helpline. This hotline offers information and support around the clock to servicemembers who have faced sexual assault. Other options for confidential reporting include chaplains or psychiatric counselors.
In order to qualify for MST benefits you must be able to prove that you had an incident of military sexual trauma while on active duty, that you are currently diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, and that your disabilities were caused or worsened by the MST you suffered while in service
Unfortunately, simply being the victim of a sexual assault will not qualify you for disability benefits. Disabilities may include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and substance abuse.
Thankfully, the VA does not require your service medical records to have any documentation of the harassment or assault. However, the VA does require some sort of proof the attack happened, and they accept the following form of proof;
In some cases you may need to provide some sort of proof that the MST affected your personality or behavior. The VA will accept the following as proof of behavioral changes:
There is no guarantee that the VA will approve a disability claim for the effects of military sexual trauma. Each year, the VA denies numerous claims related to MST allegations. MST disability claim denials commonly result from a lack of evidence that the incident occurred or that a disabling medical condition resulted from this trauma.
For many survivors, having their claim denied can feel like being victimized all over again. Fortunately, there are options for challenging a denied military sexual trauma claim. A veteran has the right to appeal the VA’s decision on their disability claim, though the process can be complex and may necessitate the guidance of an experienced attorney.
The aftermath of sexual trauma can be especially challenging for individuals transitioning out of the military. For many, transitioning out of the military can cause buried feelings regarding sexual trauma to resurface. For others, leaving the military could provide an opportunity to report an assault or pursue a military sexual trauma claim without fear of retaliation.
A veteran’s ability to pursue compensation through the VA for the ill-effects of military sexual trauma does not end once he or she has transitioned out of the military. While counseling and support to address issues that the transition could bring up are available to survivors of military sexual trauma who are leaving service, they may pursue a disability claim through the VA at any time.
Reporting sexual trauma in the military and seeking disability benefits through the VA for the impact of the trauma is never easy. In addition to the emotional challenges associated with this process, there are also logistical challenges that could derail even the strongest MST claims. An attorney can help you understand the VA’s rules regarding military sexual trauma claims while assisting you with the paperwork needed to secure the benefits you deserve.
If you have been dealing with a disability as a result of MST there is help available. Contact our office for a free case evaluation to learn more about military sexual trauma claims.