Military sexual trauma (MST) often causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and other mental disorders.
This article provides advice for veterans filing or appealing an MST-related disability compensation claim, including suggestions on how to best prepare for the C&P exam.
Get help, particularly if you are in crisis.
Seek support at a Vet Center. You do not have to suffer in silence any longer.
If the Vet Center is close to you, great. If not, ask if they have any counselors closer to where you live, as counselors often travel to nearby communities.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides free treatment (psychotherapy and/or psychiatric medicines) to MST survivors.
Consider seeking psychotherapy and/or psychiatric treatment via your local VA Health Care System—at a VA Medical Center or VA Outpatient Clinic. See the following web pages for more information:
Review Veterans benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States - an excellent Wikipedia article that provides a succinct overview, with links to more information.
Ask a friend or family member to help you file a disability claim for PTSD due to military sexual trauma. This is a stressful process and you will benefit from some assistance and support. Plus, "two minds are better than one", especially when there are so many details.
If you do not have a Veterans Service Officer yet, see this National Veterans Foundation (NVF) article for information about finding one: Veterans Service Officers. NVF also offers personalized help if you contact them.
Find a Veterans Service Officer to help you file a disability benefits claim for MST. Finding a Veterans Service Officer is not as easy as it should be. And it will take some time to build trust. (If you do not trust your veterans service officer, find another one.)
VA Claims Information (a great website created by a veteran's wife) has a nice short (but helpful!) article: "How do I find a good VSO?"
VBA Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator - Also ask for assistance from a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) MST Coordinator. VBA provides a list with email addresses for all MST Coordinators across the country.
Educate yourself by reading the following posts or articles on other websites:
Introduction To Navigating The Convoluted System Called VA Compensation on The-Military-Guide.com
Violence and Abuse - Information about the effects of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, from the National Center for PTSD.
National Center for PTSD - I suggest browsing the entire website at because it has dozens of great articles and other resources, like the PTSD Coach and several other apps that have become quite popular among veterans.
Swords to Plowshares Self-Help Guides - Read online or download PDF copies. These guides have not been updated for a few years, but most of the information is still relevant. These three guides are the most pertinent to filing a PTSD disability claim for military sexual trauma.
Online Resources for Veterans - Longer list of resources on this website (PTSDexams.net)
Learn about a new law (January 2021) that should make it easier for MST survivors with mental disorders other than PTSD to get service connected disability benefits:
Seek support and suggestions from other veterans.
Read the rest of this article (scroll down) for more information on filing a VA compensation claim for military sexual trauma.
Also see C&P Exam for PTSD (Combat), since many of the suggestions are the same for both types of PTSD exams.
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
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:
You can participate in one or more treatment modality.
See the following resources, which provide detailed information about filing a disability claim with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
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)
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 military sexual trauma 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.
Review the ‘behavioral markers’ for military sexual trauma 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 ...
Statements from ...
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:
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.
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 write 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:
Veterans Benefits Administration
Claims Intake Center
PO BOX 4444
JANESVILLE, WI 53547-4444
If you are not sure how to do that, go to the Post Office at a time when it is less busy and ask the clerk for help. You might tell the clerk you are a veteran as most folks like to help veterans, and many U.S. Postal Service employees are veterans too.
Certified Mail with Return Receipt services cost more—an extra $6.40—but are well worth it because you will have proof that VA received your letter.
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 MDE company (QTC, VES, LHI, VetFed) where your exam is scheduled to make such a request. If you have trouble reaching them, ask your Veterans Service Officer for help.
If you C&P exam was conducted at a VA medical center or outpatient clinic, you can probably request a copy of the exam report at your VA medical center’s Release of Information office, or via the Blue Button feature on MyHealtheVet. Your C&P exam report might not be available via these methods until after VBA makes its decision on your claim(s).
If a contracted examiner in private practice conducted your C&P exam (via a third-party MDE company), you must request a copy of your C&P exam report from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
If your claim is denied, or if you believe the disability rating (percentage) assigned by VBA is inaccurate, you can appeal the decision.
The appeals process requires detailed knowledge of relevant laws and legal procedures. I highly recommend finding a good veterans law attorney to represent you on appeal.
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.
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.
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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