MILITARY SEXUAL TRAUMA (MST)
Military Sexual Assault Lawyer Representing Victims Nationally
It’s not uncommon for many veterans to come home from duty with trauma or disabilities. But sometimes these disabilities aren’t visible. With a physical disability, there is often a visible impairment–an amputated limb, severe scarring, or paralysis. When someone has been sexually assaulted, there is often no visible wound. This doesn’t mean that they are unaffected. Sexual trauma can lead to mental disorders and have a devastating effect on the victim’s professional and personal life. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coined the term “Military Sexual Trauma” to refer to any unwanted sexual contact during military service. Unfortunately, many service members are denied VA disability benefits related to these injuries.
At Reich & Binstock, we work to empower survivors and get them the best help possible. This includes fighting for VA disability benefits after MST has severely impacted your life. Our military sexual trauma attorneys can support you through this difficult time and work on getting the compensation you deserve. Connect with an experienced sexual abuse attorney at Reich & Binstock by calling (713) 622-7271 today.
What Is Military Sexual Trauma?
Military sexual trauma (MST) describes any type of nonconsensual sexual activity or harassment during military service. The identity of the culprit and the location of the attack does not matter–you did not have to be in uniform or on base for the assault to be considered MST. Coercive sexual conduct falls under the umbrella of MST. A supervisor or someone higher ranking may promise better treatment in exchange for sex. They may also threaten negative consequences if you refuse. MST also includes any unwanted sexual advances or remarks about your body that you found threatening. Grossly inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment are not considered forms of MST unless the behavior leads to unwanted touching.
Military Sexual Trauma Statistics
Sexual assault statistics among military members are very similar to civilian statistics. According to the VA, 1 in 3 female veterans and 1 in 50 male veterans have experienced MST. The ratio between men and women in the military is disproportionate, but there are significant numbers of both men and women who experience MST. Unfortunately, even these ratios may not be accurate as a significant number of instances of MST go unreported. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch of the Department of Defense outlines the statistical data on sexual assault in annual reports. In their 2020 report, the department estimates that in 2018, more than 20,000 service members experienced physical MST in the past year. Only 6,053 of those cases were reported.
Impact of MST
The effects of military sexual trauma often last long after combat is over. MST can cause mental health conditions and even issues with physical health. Victims of MST are more likely than their fellow service members to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse issues are also linked to MST. These issues can cause a devastating impact on their personal relationships with family members and friends. According to a 2013 study, MST victims have a higher risk of physical illnesses as well. This includes health issues in the gastrointestinal, neurological, and genitourinary systems.
Link from Military Sexual Trauma to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Many combat veterans suffer from PTSD after experiencing intense conditions in battle. Military sexual trauma has strong links to PTSD. MST survivors often have life-long issues with their mental health. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can develop or worsen due to MST. The symptoms of PTSD have a debilitating effect on the victim’s life, including:
- Sleep problems
- Short and long-term memory issues
- Feelings of isolation
- Difficulty controlling strong emotions like anger and agitation
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Nightmares and night terrors
Victims of sexual trauma often struggle to live and function as they once did. Even with intense therapy, the impact of MST can last for the rest of your life.
Are Victims of MST Eligible for VA Disability Benefits?
When veterans suffer significant impairments in the line of duty, they can receive VA disability benefits for their injuries. If a victim of MST suffers from mental health conditions that impair their personal or professional lives, they are eligible for service-connected disability benefits. Panic attacks, depression, and other such symptoms can have a negative impact on many different aspects of life. The VA disburses disability compensation as a tax-free form of income. This helps those injured while in the service. Many MST victims seek compensation for PTSD. This compensation relieves some of the financial stress of not being able to work steadily due to the disability.
Rating for VA Benefits
The rating system for VA disability compensation is based on how debilitating the disability is to the veteran’s occupational and social life. For most mental conditions (including PTSD), the rating percentages are 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70%, or 100%. This rating determines the amount you’ll receive in benefits. These ratings are based on the evidence you submit with your disability claim and a VA claim exam.
A rating of 100% states that you have a significant occupational and social impairment. This usually involves frequent hallucinations, suicidal tendencies, and severe memory loss. A 100% rating often involves a physical disability as well. Many people with a 100% rating cannot perform basic activities. You may need in-home care or attention.
With a 70% rating, there is impairment in work and personal life. This usually results in an inability to maintain personal relationships. Suicidal ideation and frequent bouts of panic and/or depression are also common. You may have difficulty adapting or working in high-paced or stressful conditions.
A 50% rating involves some impairment to your work and personal life. You may experience frequent panic attacks (more than one per week), short and long-term memory problems, and difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships. The ability to follow complex commands is greatly reduced and you may have difficulty expressing emotion.
A rating of 30% means you generally function well, but there are periods of occupational and social impairment. This impairment is usually marked by depression, anxiety, paranoia, infrequent panic attacks, and memory loss.
With a 10% rating, your symptoms may be controlled with constant medication. Your work efficiency is only impacted during periods of significant stress. In general, your symptoms may be mild or infrequent.
A 0% rating means that a mental condition has been diagnosed. The effects of it do not impact your daily life or need constant medication. Veterans with a disability rating of 0% will likely not receive any benefits
How Does the VA Handle MST Claims?
Veterans with sexual trauma have to file a claim for disability benefits to get compensation. Unfortunately, these VA disability claims are often denied. In 2017, the VA received more than 12,000 claims for MST-related PTSD. The VA denied almost half of these claims and failed to follow correct procedures in over 1,000 of the denials. The VA may offer many free treatment options and therapy for victims of MST, but failing to follow the correct procedure when reviewing a claim can result in more trauma and anguish for the victim.
This is when it’s best to get a sexual abuse attorney to help you review your claim. At Reich & Binstock, our sexual abuse attorneys aren’t afraid to go head-to-head with organizations as big as the VA. Our focus is on helping you heal and fighting for fair compensation for you. We can help you prove your MST claim so you can receive your full benefits.
How to Prove an MST Claim
Proving your MST-related PTSD disability claim can be difficult. Many cases go unreported, but unreported cases can still cause significant amounts of health issues years later. You have to be able to prove that there is a service connection to your disability. This means you’ll have to compile evidence, go over all the details you remember, and even get lawyers involved.
Your disability claim will require you to submit evidence of both your injury and the cause of the injury. For most MST survivors, the injury is PTSD and the cause is sexual trauma during your service. Proving MST can be tricky, especially if the case was never reported. You may be required to go into detail about the personal assault, and in many cases, you’ll be asked to repeat it multiple times. Any evidence you can provide from around the time of the attack can help, including:
- Service medical records
- Proof of pregnancy
- Proof of sexually transmitted diseases
- Statements from friends and family members
Revisiting a traumatic time in your life can have a severe impact on your mental and emotional health. Going through this exhausting process just to have your claim denied by the VA can be overwhelming. Having an experienced legal team by your side can help you through this difficult time. At Reich & Binstock, we can help you file the initial disability claim and appeal any denials.
Do I Need A Military Sexual Trauma Attorney?
A military sexual trauma attorney can save you a headache of paperwork and confusion. With a team of sexual trauma attorneys behind you, you can rest assured that your best interest is at the forefront of our minds. You shouldn’t have to suffer from someone else’s actions.
An attorney-client relationship can save you some unnecessary stress, especially when it comes to claim denials.
As stated above, many veterans who file MST-PTSD-related disability claims are denied benefits. VA examiners often send out a boilerplate response with their denials. It may state that there isn’t enough evidence of the trauma or the PTSD is unrelated to service history. This makes many victims of MST fall deeper into despair. Many victims avoid reporting the circumstances of their sexual trauma because of the fear that they won’t be believed. When the VA sends out boilerplate messages like this with a claim denial, the veteran’s fears are coming true. The experienced attorneys at Reich & Binstock are ready to fight claim denials and get you the disability compensation you deserve.
Get the Benefits You Deserve With Compassionate Attorneys from Reich & Binstock
When a veteran is physically injured in the line of duty, there is often no need to jump through so many hoops to get the benefits they deserve. The conversation around mental health has progressed in recent years, but not enough. Many people who suffer from mental health issues related to traumatic events don’t always get the help they need.
At Reich & Binstock, our attorneys focus on getting help for those who need it most. If you are experiencing physical or mental health issues due to military sexual trauma, we can support you and fight for compensation. For a free case evaluation, call us today at (713) 622-7271.