What should I expect as compensation for Military Sexual Trauma VA Disability?
First, let’s define military sexual trauma (sometimes referred to as “MST”) as the VA defines it. In short, military sexual trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service.
MST comes in different shades and experiences, both men and women suffer from MST, and sometimes the offender is a superior officer, a fellow soldier, or even a civilian. They range from violent rapes, to non-consensual sexual contact while you were intoxicated or asleep, to sexual harassment at work. Sometimes it is a quid pro quo situation – your work or advancement is directly, or impliedly, tied to sexual activity. Sometimes, it’s continuing harassment. The majority of the time, these incidents are not formally reported at the time.
Often the soldier suffering the sexual assault, abuse, or harassment just tries to manage the situation and the fallout with the sheer perseverance they have been taught to use in other aspects of their lives. It may work for a while, but sooner or later, there may be some cracks in those efforts to pretend nothing traumatic happened. Sometimes that starts affecting a veteran’s life in a significant way and the veteran may finally seek assistance.
MST is not a disability in and of itself. However, it frequently may lead to mental health or physical issues that are recognized disabilities, most often PTSD.
Making a MST Claim
As a veteran, you may file a VA disability claim for any current health conditions (physical or mental) that were caused by or worsened because of your military service. This includes incidents that may have happened while you were off duty, but during your time of service. The VA disability process and MST claim process are one and the same, though there are a few differences. Yours will likely be a PTSD (or other condition) disability claim, identifying the triggering trauma as the MST.
As with all government bureaucracies, starting the VA disability claim process involves filling out an application for disability benefits. This can be done online. You can also work with an accredited VSO (veteran service officer) to help you file your claim. For MST claims, you can also reach out to a local MST Outreach Coordinator to assist you with the claim process; both male and female coordinators are available to help you. Attorneys are rarely involved in this initial claim process because federal law prohibits anyone from charging a veteran for assistance in filing a VA disability claim application.
Remember that your disability claim will identify specific current physical or mental health conditions. The MST element comes in as a precipitating trauma that triggered the condition. To get those details to the VA for consideration will include, at some point in the process, filing VA Form 21-0781a, Statement in Support of Claim for Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Secondary to Personal Assault. This form asks for details about the date/time/place and other information about the MST. If you do not file it with your original application, the VA should request it during the processing of your claim.
During the course of processing your MST-related case, the VA will review your military service record, your medical records, and any other relevant evidence produced to them. Additionally, it may request a C&P exam for further verification and documentation of your claim.
According to VA statistics, the average time for processing an initial VA disability claim is approximately 125 days, but sometimes can be longer, so you’ll need to be patient in waiting for their decision. When the VA is done reviewing your claim, they will send out a notification letter with their decision along with some detailed explanations of why they reached the decision. They may grant your claim, and assign a disability rating (from 0-100%) and the effective date for starting your benefits (usually the filing date of your application). They may also deny your claim but will explain why.
If you are dissatisfied with any aspect of the initial decision, you have one year to file a VA claim appeal.
What compensation should I expect for MST?
MST compensation (or more accurately MST-related VA disability compensation) is based upon the disability rating assigned (between 0-100%) and your marital and family status. The most common MST-related disability is PTSD which is rated at 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% or 100% based upon a specific listing of symptoms and impact on the veteran’s day-to-day life. That rating, then, is matched up to a set of marital/family statuses. For example, if you are rated 70% for PTSD and are single with no dependents, the monthly payment amount would be approximately $1,500. With a spouse and 1 child, the amount would be approximately $1,750. Different disability ratings and different family structures will have different benefit amounts and the dollar amounts may differ slightly from year to year. The current payment calculation charts can be found on the VA website.
Don’t forget that in addition to VA disability benefit payments, you may also be entitled to VA healthcare services, 10-point hiring preference for federal employment, and other VA-related benefits.
What if I don’t receive the compensation I expect?
You may not get the result, and compensation award, you would like when you receive your initial notification letter. Don’t give up at that point. Proving MST to the VA for purposes of a VA disability claim can be a complicated process sometimes, but it is doable. Sometimes an appeal is required to get all of your evidence lined up in the right way for the VA to see why you should get a different, and better, outcome than their first decision.
The VA sets out, in its own information sheets, what evidence is needed to prove a disability claim based on MST. Proving military sexual trauma to the VA requires that there be evidence of (1) a current physical or mental condition affecting your body or mind (PTSD is common, but there are other conditions as well that may be caused by an MST); (2) an event (such as an MST), injury or illness happened to you while you were serving in the military; and (3) a nexus or link between the two.
You may not have received the compensation you expected because one of those things was not proven to the VA. However, there are ways of supplementing your claim file with additional evidence during the appeal process.
You will want to look into retaining a VA disability attorney (sometimes referred to as a VA disability claim appeal attorney) to assist you in figuring out what type of appeal you want to file
Has your MST-related disability claim been denied or underrated? Would like an attorney to take and look and see if they can help you get a better decision on appeal. Veterans Law Group represents veterans like you every day. Get a free evaluation of your MST-related PTSD or other VA disability claim today.