Military Sexual Trauma

Advice for Veterans

Military sexual trauma (MST) often causes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This article provides advice for veterans filing or appealing an MST-related disability compensation claim, including suggestions on how to best prepare for the PTSD exam (C&P exam).

Top 10 Tips

for Military Sexual Trauma Survivors

1. Seek support. You do not have to suffer in silence any longer. 

(a) Contact a Vet Center in your area, and let them know where you live. Tell them you are looking for help coping with military sexual trauma.

If the Vet Center is close to you, great. If not, ask if they have any counselors closer to where you live.

Click here for more information on Vet Center readjustment counseling services.

Male Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

Approximately 200,000 male veterans alive today endured sexual assault during their military service.

Most of them suffer in silence.

But that does not have to be the case.

For example, see Six Men Tell Their Stories of Sexual Assault in the Military, published by the New York Times on 10 Sep 2019.1


Free Mental Health Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma Survivors

Before I offer advice about the VA disability benefits claim process, I want to make sure you know that you can receive free professional help from VA.

If you suffer from PTSD or any other mental disorder (such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or agoraphobia) due to military sexual trauma, you can receive free mental health treatment, whether or not you are service connected for a mental disorder, at any VA medical center, outpatient clinic, or Vet Center.

There are different types of mental health treatment available at the VA. For example:

  • Individual psychotherapy with a trauma specialist
  • Group counseling with other MST survivors
  • Psychiatric medication

You can participate in one or more treatment modality.

Filing a VA Disability Benefits Claim for PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma

See the following resources, which provide detailed information about filing a disability claim with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

How to apply online via the VA's eBenefits website (PDF)

Disability Compensation for Conditions Related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST) - VA Fact Sheet (PDF)

VA Form 21-0781a - Statement in Support of Claim For Service Connection for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Secondary to Personal Assault

Was your MST-Related VA Benefit Claim Denied in the Past? Learn about Special Review Process (from Stateside Legal)

Obtain All Relevant Records

The C&P psychologist or psychiatrist, whether your exam is at a VA medical center or with a private doctor who does exams for a third-party MDE (Medical Disability Examination) company, will have computer access to all your VA treatment records.

If you saw a private psychiatrist, family doctor, psychologist, therapist, counselor, or enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program, and you talked about MST and its effects (symptoms), try to obtain those records, as they may prove quite persuasive.

Note that ‘symptoms’ can be psychological or physical (medical) symptoms. Sexual assault survivors experience a much higher rate of medical problems than average.

Some of the problems are sexual in nature, such as loss of libido (sexual desire); vaginismus; anxiety in sexual situations; erectile dysfunction; bowel disorders; rectal bleeding; etc.

Other medical disorders are not sexual in nature, such as cluster-type headaches and gastrointestinal distress. (Of course, there can be other causes for those conditions, but it is something to consider and to discuss with your doctor if they are still a problem for you.)

Also make sure that VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) has requested and received all of your military personnel records.

You can request your military personnel records yourself if VBA does not have them already. Review your personnel records for behavioral markers.

Behavioral Markers

Review the ‘behavioral markers’ for MST that might apply in your case.

First, review the federal regulation that addresses behavioral markers in MST-PTSD disability claims: 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(5)

That regulation indicates that you may submit:

Records from ...

  • law enforcement authorities
  • rape crisis centers
  • mental health counseling centers
  • hospitals or physicians
  • pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases

Statements from ...

  • family members
  • roommates
  • fellow service members
  • clergy

Evidence of behavior changes following the claimed assault is one type of relevant evidence that may be found in these sources.

Examples of behavior changes that may constitute credible evidence of the stressor include, but are not limited to: 

  • a request for a transfer to another military duty assignment
  • deterioration in work performance
  • substance abuse
  • episodes of depression
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety without an identifiable cause
  • unexplained economic or social behavior changes


 

 

Obtain All Relevant Medical Records

The C&P psychologist or psychiatrist, whether your exam is at a VA medical center or with a private doctor who does exams for a third-party IME company, will have computer access to all your VA treatment records.

If you saw a private psychiatrist, family doctor, psychologist, therapist, counselor, or enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program, and you talked about MST and its effects (symptoms), try to obtain those records, as they may prove quite persuasive.

Note that ‘symptoms’ can be psychological or physical (medical) symptoms. Sexual assault survivors experience a much higher rate of medical problems than average.

Some of the problems are sexual in nature, such as loss of libido (sexual desire); vaginismus; anxiety in sexual situations; erectile dysfunction; bowel disorders; rectal bleeding; etc.

Other medical disorders are not necessarily sexual in nature, such as cluster-type or migraine headaches and gastrointestinal distress. (Of course, there can be other causes for those conditions, but it is something to consider and to discuss with your current doctor if they are still a problem for you.)

Also make sure that VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) has requested and received all of your military personnel records. Request copies yourself, either from the Department of Defense or from VBA, and review them for any behavioral markers. Ask a friend or family member to review them too.

Behavioral Markers

Review the ‘behavioral markers’ for MST that might apply in your case – check the VA’s fact sheet, Disability Compensation for Conditions Related to Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and also see this post on the Veterans Benefits Network Forum, which includes an even more detailed list: Question about “markers” for PTSD/MST.

Lay Statements

It is also very helpful to submit lay statements (lay is short for lay witness, i.e., a non-expert who provides testimony in a legal case), if possible, from men or women with whom you served, who noticed changes in your mood, demeanor, behavior, and outlook after the sexual assault(s) or harassment.

Also try to obtain lay statements from family members or friends who observed how the assault(s) or harassment affected you over the years, even if they did not know the reason at the time. Friends and family members should handwrite or type their lay statement on VA Form 21-4138 (Statement in Support of Claim).

Mail the statements and any other relevant documents to the VBA centralized intake center.

If you mail the statement, do so in a way that gives you proof that it was received, e.g., U.S. Postal Service Signature Confirmation, or a similar service via FedEx or UPS.

Ask your friends or family members to review the list of behavioral markers, in case any of them apply in your case, so that they can comment on them specifically.

Also review all this information with your Veterans Service Officer and ask for his or her advice. If you do not have a Veterans Service Officer, you can read about how to find one in this Wikipedia article: Veterans benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States, under "Obtaining Assistance."

Preparing for Your C&P Exam

Keep an open mind about your upcoming C&P exam. Yes, you might receive a ‘bad’ examiner who does not understand the suffering MST survivors experience. On the other hand, you might see a good examiner who will conduct a thorough, objective, and compassionate evaluation.

You have a right to request a female or male examiner, if you have a preference. Call the VA medical center or the IME company where your exam is scheduled to make such a request. If you have trouble reaching them, ask your Veterans Service Officer for help.

See this post for general advice on how to prepare for your exam:

Advice for Veterans – VA PTSD Compensation and Pension Exam

After the C&P Exam

Many veterans choose to request a copy of their C&P exam report either by requesting it through your VA medical MY Health-e-Vet logocenter’s Release of Information office, or via the Blue Button feature on MyHealtheVet. (MyHealtheVet is a VA website where veterans can obtain health information, send encrypted messages to their primary care doctor, and download copies of all their VA medical records).

You certainly have the right to request your exam report, but keep in mind that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) adjudicates disability claims, and they may or may not agree with the C&P psychologist or psychiatrist's opinion.

I suggest waiting until you receive your Decision Letter from VBA before expending a lot of energy worrying about what the C&P examiner wrote in his or her report. Note that if a contracted examiner in private practice conducted your C&P exam (via a third-party IME company), you must obtain a copy of your C&P exam report directly from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

If VBA Denies Your Claim

If your claim is denied, or if you believe the disability rating (percentage) assigned by VBA is inaccurate, you can appeal the decision. Note that to begin your appeal, you must submit a NOD ("Notice of Disagreement") on VA Form 21-0958. That form contains detailed instructions. In addition, see the following resources.

Note that you may have your Veterans Service Officer or a veterans law attorney represent you on appeal.

Legal Representation

If you decide to appeal your decision to the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA), or if you need to appeal a BVA decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), I recommend finding an experienced veterans lawyer to represent you on appeal. Here are some ways to find a veterans law attorney.

  • Unless they agree to work on a pro bono basis (see below for pro bono programs), attorneys and claims agents who represent veterans before the Veterans Benefits Administration, Board of Veterans Appeals, and Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims require payment for their services. Most attorneys will agree to receive payment after your appeal is decided, and only if you 'win' your appeal, from a percentage of back-pay you receive, according to requirements set forth in the Equal Access to Justice Act. These are attorney fees ordered by the court to be paid by the federal government when the government's position in litigation was not "substantially justified."1
  • Ask other vets if they know any good veterans attorneys.
  • Also ask your Veterans Service Officer (Representative) if he or she can recommend a veterans lawyer.
  • Ask other vets for suggestions on the Veterans Benefits Network and HadIt.com forums.

Free Legal Services for Veterans

Note that a veterans lawyer does not need to have an office in your state of residence, since these are federal proceedings, although they do need to have been accredited by VA.

 

Male Survivors

Approximately 200,000 male veterans alive today endured sexual assault during their military service. Most of them suffer in silence. But that does not have to be the case.

Footnote 1. 38 C.F.R. 14.636 - Payment of fees for representation by agents and attorneys in proceedings before Agencies of Original Jurisdiction and before the Board of Veterans' Appeals. Code of Federal Regulations. United States Government Printing Office (GPO).  

Footnotes

1. Dave Philipps (writer) and Mary F. Calvert (photographer), "Six Men Tell Their Stories of Sexual Assault in the Military", New York Times (10 September 2019).



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