Recent Changes to MST-related PTSD claims processing means more help for Veterans

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Due to increased awareness of this problem and the challenges of providing corroborating evidence in many cases, VA has taken a number of steps over the years to better serve MST survivors applying for disability compensation for conditions caused by MST, beginning with relaxing evidentiary standards in 2002. Because events involving sexual trauma are not always officially reported, VA looks for “markers” (i.e., signs, events or circumstances) that provide an indication the traumatic event happened, which include but are not limited to records from rape crisis or mental health counseling centers, tests for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, statements from family members or roommates, transfer requests, deterioration in work performance, episodes of depression or anxiety without an identifiable cause and relationship issues.

The VA may determine you have disabilities related to your military service. If so, you could receive:

  • Monthly nontaxable compensation
  • Enrollment in the VA health care system
  • 10-point hiring preference for federal employment
  • Other important benefits

MST is defined by Title 38 U.S. Code 120D. It states MST is:

  • Psychological trauma resulting from a physical assault of a sexual nature
  • Battery of a sexual nature
  • Sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on: 
    • Active duty
    • Active duty for training
    • Inactive duty training

Sexual harassment is different. It is defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature.”  

Disability Compensation for MST Disability compensation is not given for MST. However, you can receive it for conditions that result from MST.

The following can support your MST claim:

  • Department of Defense sexual assault or harassment reporting forms
  • Investigative reports completed during military service

We know not all sexual trauma events are reported. PTSD claims related to MST require less evidence. Instead, the VA now looks for “markers.” These may be signs, events or circumstances. These provide some clue the traumatic event happened.

Some examples of markers are:

  • Records from official sources
    • Law enforcement
    • Rape crisis centers
    • Mental health counseling centers
    • Hospitals
    • Physicians
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Tests for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Statements from others
    • Family members
    • Roommates
    • Clergy members
    • Fellow Service members
    • Counselors
  • Requests for transfer to another military duty assignment
  • Decrease in work performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Episodes of the following without clear cause:
    • Depression
    • Panic attacks or Anxiety
  • Unexplained behavior (economic or social)
  • Relationship issues, like divorce
  • Sexual dysfunction

a longer list is available here.

An individual who suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of military sexual trauma (MST) that occurred during a period of inactive duty for training may be considered disabled by an injury for purposes of 38 U.S.C. 101(2) and (24).

Naming the assailant

With the changes in the evidence requirements in 2017, there are cases where you do not have to actually name the attacker. This is important when the assailant may be in your local vicinity, still attached to your unit, etc. Just because you are unwilling to name the person who attacked you does not mean you should not file a claim for PTSD or other conditions related to the MST.

Treatment for MST-Related Conditions

The VA will provide free health care for physical and mental health conditions related to MST. You do not need documentation of the MST experiences or a disability compensation rating. Even if you are not eligible for other VA care or actually rated for the MST related conditions, you may qualify for this free health care.

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