What is MST PTSD?
Published March 1, 2021
Serving your country in the military can be one of your proudest achievements, but sometimes things happen during your service that haunt you for years to come. According to recent research, 15.7% of military personnel and veterans (both men and women) report being subjected to sexual harassment or sexual assault. These events are referred to as “military sexual trauma” or MST, and it is common knowledge that there is a higher incidence rate when you include unreported cases. You may be one of them. This article will explain MST, its frequent connection to PTSD, and what you can do if you suffer the after-effects of MST.
What is Military Sexual Trauma?
Any service member can experience MST, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or military rank. MST perpetrators are sometimes a superior officer, fellow soldiers, and sometimes a civilian. It includes both sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The VA uses the term “military sexual trauma” (MST) to refer to sexual assault or harassment against a service member during their service period. MST includes any sexual activity or threats of sexual activity directed at a soldier against their will. Here are some examples:
- Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities. This can be through threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment in exchange for sex
- Someone having sexual contact with you without your consent. This includes non-consensual sexual contact when you were asleep or intoxicated
- Being physically forced to have sex
- Being touched in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable
- Repeated comments about your body or sexual activities
- Threatening and unwanted sexual advances
What are the symptoms of MST?
Soldiers and veterans are not known for complaining. When faced with challenging circumstances or internal turmoil, veterans are more likely to “tough it out” and hope to make any discomfort they feel, no matter how severe, go away on its own. As a result, MSTs are often unreported at the time or even acknowledged to friends and loved ones for years. However, MST often takes a significant mental toll that surfaces significantly later, sometimes years later.
Like other psychological or physical trauma types, MST can cause severe mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, substance abuse, and many others. When it comes to VA disability benefits, the VA recognizes MST cases as PTSD from a personal assault.
Do you have PTSD resulting from MST? Only a professional can diagnose you, but there are signs and symptoms that you may recognize as signaling the presence of PTSD. Do you have any of these common symptoms?
- Disturbing memories or nightmares
- Deep-seated fear or discomfort in dealing with the same gender as the assailant
- Chronic anxiety and panic attacks
- A need to avoid people
- Difficulty feeling safe
- Feelings of depression or numbness
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs
- Feeling isolated from other people
- Problems with anger, irritability, or other strong emotions
- Issues with sleep
- Physical health problems
MST PTSD can support a claim for VA disability benefits
Because most MSTs lead to a diagnosis of PTSD, MST-based claims for VA disability benefits are handled as a type of PTSD claim.
There are two critical parts to an MST claim: (1) “credible evidence” of the trauma-inducing event; and (2) a “nexus” or connection between that event and the resulting trauma symptoms. A PTSD claim (and thus also MST claims) has a unique requirement that does not apply to other VA mental health disorder claims. This requirement is that Credible Evidence of the Occurrence of the Trauma is provided (“Credible Evidence requirement”). This means that you must come forward with evidence other than your own testimony or statements showing that the alleged in-service trauma actually occurred.
If you did not make a contemporaneous report of the MST incident, that does not mean you cannot be approved to receive disability benefits. Many victims of MST have kept quiet about the incident due to embarrassment, shame, or fear, and the VA recognizes that. Therefore, MST claimants can satisfy the Credible Evidence requirement by other means, so-called “markers,” or circumstantial evidence of their emotional reaction to the MST.
Explore your MST relief options
If you are a victim of military sexual trauma and are struggling, wait no longer before pursuing a VA disability claim. These claims can be successfully proven, and compensation awarded even if no formal report was made at the time.
If the initial claim determination you receive either denies your MST claim or is rated at a lower percentage than you think is appropriate, do not despair. Although it may seem you are not being believed, the claim denial may result from missing evidence or other technical and fixable reasons.
Talk to a VA disability claims attorney who regularly handles MST claims and get their evaluation of your case. VA disability claims are often modified upon appeal. A law firm specializing in veteran claims can help you do that without you having to pay any legal fees upfront.
Veterans Law Group has helped thousands of veterans successfully obtain VA disability benefits, including hundreds of MST victims. Contact us now for your free case evaluation.