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Mental Health

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Military Sexual Trauma

 

Overview

Female deep in thought.

Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. It includes any sexual activity where someone is involved against his or her will – he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities.  Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities; and/or threatening or unwelcome sexual advances.

Male deep in thought.Both women and men can experience MST during their service. All Veterans seen at Veterans Health Administration facilities are asked about experiences of sexual trauma because we know that any type of trauma can affect a person’s physical and mental health, even many years later. We also know that people can recover from trauma. VA has free services to help Veterans do this.  You do not need to have a VA disability rating (be “service connected”) to receive these services and may be able to receive services even if you are not eligible for other VA care.  You do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.

This website has information about the health care services that VA has available for Veterans who experienced MST.  For information about VA disability compensation for conditions related to MST, please view this fact sheet about Disability Compensation for Personal Assault or Military Sexual Trauma.

VA Programs & Services

Treatment Services

While MST can be a very difficult experience, recovery is possible. At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. You may be able to receive this MST-related care even if you are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, you do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process.*

VA has a range of services available to meet Veterans where they are at in their recovery:

Outpatient Care

 

  • Every VA health care facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for problems related to MST. Because MST is associated with a range of mental health problems, VA’s general services for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and others are important resources for MST survivors.
  • Many VA facilities have specialized outpatient mental health services focusing specifically on sexual trauma.
  • Many Vet Centers also have specially trained sexual trauma counselors.

 

Residential/Inpatient Care

 

  • VA has programs that offer specialized MST treatment in a residential or inpatient setting. These programs are for Veterans who need more intense treatment and support.
  • Because some Veterans do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women. All residential and inpatient MST programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.

 

How can I get more information about services?

 

  • Knowing that MST survivors may have special needs and concerns, every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. He or she can help Veterans find and access VA services and programs.
  • You can also contact your local Vet Center or speak to your existing VA health care provider.
  • A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online by using the VA Facility Locator or Vet Center Locator. Veterans should feel free to ask to meet with a clinician of a particular gender if it would make them feel more comfortable.
  • Veterans can also call VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000. Information in Spanish is available in this brochure (PDF).

 

Other Veterans Health Administration Responses to MST

VA is implementing a variety of initiatives to support its mission to help with the recovery of Veterans who experienced MST.

Screening

 

  • Recognizing that many survivors of sexual trauma do not disclose their experiences unless asked directly, it is national VHA policy that all Veterans seen in VA health care are screened for experiences of MST.
  • This is an important way to make sure that Veterans are aware of VA’s MST-related services.

 

Staff Education & Training

 

  • All VA mental health and primary care providers must complete a mandatory training on MST. This helps ensure they have the training and background they need to work effectively and sensitively with Veterans who experienced MST.
  • VA also has a range of additional MST training opportunities available for health care staff, including monthly national training calls, an annual national conference, and web-based resources.
  • National initiatives within VA to disseminate evidence-based psychotherapies (EBPs) for mental health conditions have also helped ensure that Veterans who experienced MST have access to cutting edge treatment approaches.

 

Outreach

 

  • To help ensure Veterans are aware of VA’s MST-related services, health care facility MST Coordinators and other staff engage in outreach and other efforts to facilitate access to care.
  • Every April, VA facilities throughout the country host awareness and informational events in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
  • VA has partnered with the Department of Defense to make information about VA’s MST services available to staff and Servicemembers, particularly those Servicemembers being discharged.

 

*As with other injuries or disabilities incurred during service, Veterans can file a claim to receive compensation for any MST-related injuries or disabilities that began or got worse during their military service. More information is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/serviceconnected/MST.pdf

Articles & Fact Sheets

Fact Sheets

Articles

Other Resources

  • MakeTheConnection.net: Visit this site to view stories of Veterans who have overcome military sexual trauma. MakeTheConnection.net is a one-stop resource where Veterans and their families and friends can privately explore information on mental health issues, hear fellow Veterans and their families share their stories of resilience, and easily find and access the support and resources they need.
    • Watch video testimonials from Veterans who have found ways to address the effects of military sexual trauma, and to learn more about Veterans’ experiences finding treatment and recovery.

    MTC
  • After Deployment: afterdeployment.org provides a program designed to provide support to service members who are healing after having experienced sexual trauma.
  • MyDuty.mil: If you are an active duty service member and have been a victim of Military Sexual Assault (or know someone who has), MyDuty.mil provides information and guidance on your reporting options and rights.
  • DoD Safe Helpline: DoD Safe Helpline is a crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. Through the Safe Helpline, you can “click, call or text” to receive anonymous one-on-one advice, support, and information 24/7. You can go to www.safehelpline.org for a live chat or to view resources. From anywhere in the world, you can call 877-995-5247, or text your zip code or base/installation name to 55-247 inside the US (202-470-5546 outside the US) to get the contact information for your nearest Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
  • VA Disability Compensation for Conditions Related to MST (Factsheet / General Information): Veterans can apply for disability compensation for any current difficulties that are related to their service, including difficulties related to MST.  Visit these sites to learn more about VA disability compensation for conditions related to MST.  Remember that you do not need to have a VA disability rating in order to receive free MST-related treatment through VA.
 
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