Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines as sexual assault (including rape) or repetitive, threatening sexual harassment, is and has been an unfortunately all too common occurrence in the United States military. Significant numbers of both male and female veterans have experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military; in fact, according to the VA, nearly one in five female servicemembers and one in one-hundred male servicemembers have experienced military sexual trauma.
While the most common example of military sexual trauma is sexual assault, including rape, the VA also lists the following examples: pressure to engage in sexual activities under threat of negative consequences or for implied benefits; inability to consent to sexual activity; unwanted sexual touching; threatening or unwanted sexual advance; or offensive remarks about a servicemember’s body or sexual behavior.
You are eligible for veterans disability benefits on the basis of military sexual trauma if you can prove all three of the following requirements:
1. You experienced an incident of military sexual trauma while on active duty in the military
2. You have been diagnosed with a mental or physical disability. Some of the most common impairments that result from MST and can be debilitating are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorder, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
3. Your impairment(s) were caused or worsened by the military sexual trauma that you experienced during your time in service.
Unfortunately, most victims of MST are highly unlikely to have official military documentation proving that the traumatic incident occurred. This is primarily because there has been and still remain many obstacles to reporting sexual assault or harassment in the military. Whether it be for fear of retribution or the significant stigma against reporting such incidents, most incidents are not reported. Consequently, in these cases, no investigation is ever begun and no disciplinary action is ever taken against the attacker, leaving the victim with no military record of the traumatic event.
However, the VA has recognized the above circumstances and does not require that service records contain any proof of the causal event in MST cases. Furthermore, as of September 30, 2013, AZ v. Shinseki, AY v. Shinseki, two companion U.S. Court of Appeals cases established that the VA may no longer treat “the absence of reports of the alleged sexual assaults as pertinent evidence that the assaults did not occur.” The decision continues on to hold that the “Board and Veterans Court may not rely on a veteran’s failure to report an in-service sexual assault to military authorities as pertinent evidence that the sexual assault did not occur.”
In cases where no military record of a MST in-service stressor exists, veterans and their attorneys may use other sources to corroborate their accounts of the MST stressor event. These sources often include records from law enforcement, rape crisis centers, hospitals, and doctors; pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases; diaries that you or someone close to you kept during the period in which the incident took place; transfer requests or changes in job performance for which there is no other explanation; and statements from other servicemembers, family, friends, or clergy. These types of sources typically show proof either of the incident itself or behavior changes that occurred as a result of the incident, showing a clear before and after change in behavior.
Firm owner and founder, Robert Friedman, handles each and every one of our veterans disability cases personally and has significant experience representing veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma but failed to report the incident to military personnel. Most of our clients who have experienced MST suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and we help these clients not only prove the severity of their PTSD but also that their in-service MST occurred.
Recently, we have obtained TDIU ratings for two clients who have PTSD as a result of military sexual trauma: a male Air Force veteran and a female Air Force veteran, both of whom were initially denied by the VA because they could not prove a sexual assault occurred while in service.
If you or a loved one served in the military and are now suffering from PTSD or any other impairment due to military sexual trauma (MST), please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation. Call us at 800-742-5035 or use the contact form on this site.