Sexual harassment and assault are part of a dark underbelly that the military doesn’t like to admit to. Any form of sexual harassment is, of course, a tragedy, but it’s even more difficult to accept its existence amongst the servicemen and women who sacrifice so much while serving their country. Incidents of military sexual trauma (MST), however, are far greater than many would expect. In fact, a poll by Gallup shows that one in four U.S. veterans know a servicemember or veteran who was a victim of sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Furthermore, the same poll said female veterans are three times – 60 percent – more likely than male veterans – 20 percent – to say they know a someone who was victimized.
Being the victim of MST or any other form of sexual trauma can be debilitating not only in the short-term, but is likely to affect the victim far into the future. Many victims develop psychological and physical problems years after the incident. In addition, veterans who were victims of MST have also recently been linked to higher rates of homelessness.
If you are a servicemember or veteran who is the victim of MST, there are options available. Speaking to veterans’ disability attorneys may be helpful.
Is Compensation Available for Military Sexual Trauma?
The VA defines MST according to Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D which defines it as “psychological trauma resulting from physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, in inactive duty training.” Sexual harassment constitutes any “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”
Although a veteran cannot receive compensation specifically from the traumatic event itself, they may be entitled to receive disability compensation due to conditions resulting from MST. Health conditions that a veteran may have as a result of MST include a number of disorders such as depression, substance abuse, panic attacks, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In order to qualify for compensation based on MST, the veteran must prove their eligibility by affirming the following:
- The sexual trauma occurred while the veteran was on active duty;
- The veteran has currently been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability; and
- These disabilities were either the direct result of, or worsened by, the military sexual trauma that the veteran was a victim of during their service.
Experiencing some form of mental or physical disorder as a result of MST is very common, even years after the trauma occurred. The most common disorder developed by veterans with MST is currently PTSD.
Evidence to Support MST Claim
Before receiving any kind of disability compensation for MST from the VA, a veteran must first prove the aforementioned items related to MST. Direct evidence of the MST can be proven using the Department of Defense forms used to report sexual assault or harassment along with any investigative reports that took place during military service.
On many occasions, however, these documents are unavailable because the incident went unreported. Thankfully, the VA has relaxed some of the documentation necessary because they understand that because of the nature of sexual trauma, the incidents are not always officially reported. For veterans who are seeking disability for a disorder related to MST there are other means of proving the occurrence of traumatic events. Evidence can be provided in the forms of “markers,” meaning signs, events, or circumstances, that show some indication that sexual trauma happened. Examples of acceptable evidence for MST claims include, but are not limited to:
- Any records by law enforcement, mental health counseling centers, rape crisis centers, hospital, or physicians indicating sexual trauma;
- Testimony from family members, fellow service members, roommates, clergy, or counselors;
- Pregnancy tests or STD tests;
- Civilian hospital visits;
- Substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol;
- Transfer requests to another military duty assignment;
- Periods of depression, anxiety, or panic attacks that have no identifiable cause;
- Social and economic behavioral changes without explanation;
- Sexual dysfunction; and
- Relationship problems.
Filing a Claim for MST
When filing your claim to the VA for MST, veterans should make sure to have a all documentation in order. Because of the severity and complexities involved with MST, the VA addresses them slightly differently than normal claims. To ensure the MST claim has the best chance of winning make sure to include all the following:
- The completed VA Form 21-526;
- A diagnosis from a doctor or other healthcare provider of PTSD, depression, anxiety, or other health disorder caused by MST
- A letter from your doctor or health care provider stating that the mental or physical disorder is most likely caused or aggravated by an incident of sexual trauma that occurred during your military service; and
- Appropriate evidence from the aforementioned section proving the sexual trauma occurred.
It is advisable to submit claims related to MST has soon as possible after the sexual trauma occurred as waiting hurt your chances of having the claim approved. If you are unsure of the documentation necessary for filing a claim or need help doing so, working with a veterans’ disability attorney is advised.
Can a Previously Denied Claim Be Re-Evaluated?
Often times veterans become discouraged and even report feeling traumatized after having the VA deny their claim due to lack of evidence. It’s important to remember, however, that increased awareness of MST is resulting in more research and training for VA personnel.
This means that even though you may have filed an MST claim that was previously denied, it is still possible to receive compensation and ask to have the claim re-evaluated. Training helps VA personnel better identify markers that indicate sexual trauma. Any claims filed before 2011 took place before these training periods and can, consequently, be submitted for re-evaluation.
Furthermore, veterans may submit additional evidence in support of their claim when having it re-evaluated and should submit such evidence to the same place they sent their request for the re-evaluation.
Seeking Veterans’ Disability Compensation?
Surviving any form of trauma is painful, but military sexual trauma can be particularly difficult to deal with. There is often a cloud of denial when such incidents occur and many victims feel ashamed or afraid to come forward. Don’t let these things stand in the way of receiving the compensation you deserve. For help with MST claims or any veterans’ disability compensation claims contact the offices of J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law. With years of experience in veterans’ disability law in Greenville, he can help you understand your rights and receive the maximum benefits available from you claim.