Military Sexual Trauma
Help with VA Services and Benefits
For help with treatment and health care related to experiences of MST, please contact your local VA Medical Center and ask to speak to the MST Coordinator.
For help with disability compensation related to MST, please contact the MST Coordinator at your local Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office.
April is Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Month
Recovery from Military Sexual Trauma: Strength in Community
Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign in April to raise public awareness about sexual assault. In VA, we focus in particular on sexual assault and sexual harassment occurring during military service – also known as “military sexual trauma” or “MST.” This year, VA’s national theme for SAAM activities is “Recovery from Military Sexual Trauma: Strength in Community.” Reflecting on the theme, Christine Cooper, MST Coordinator at the Lebanon VA comments, “it reinforces that our Veterans who experienced MST have us and the community to walk alongside them on their healing journey. No more hiding or shame.”
In VA, Veterans who experienced MST have access to a wide range of services to assist them in their recovery. MST-related treatment is available at all VA medical facilities and all treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST is provided free of charge. Veterans may be eligible for free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services, and service connection (VA disability compensation) is not required. No documentation of MST experiences is required. In addition, every VA healthcare system has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues at the facility and can help Veterans access relevant VA services and programs.
Sadly, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men seen for VA health care report a history of MST when screened by a VA provider. Although the percentage among women is much higher, given the far greater number of men in military service, there are significant numbers of both men and women who have experienced MST. In fact, over 40% of the Veterans seen in VA who disclose MST are men.
For many survivors, a sense that they are alone can be an incredibly difficult part of the experience of MST and connecting with a community of support can be very powerful. That said, Gary Napier, LCSW, an MST Coordinator at the Topeka (KS) VA Medical Center says “connecting with the strength in community takes both a degree of open-mindedness and courage. I think connecting with community is the scariest thing for many of our Veterans with MST to do.” Because of this, MST Coordinators and other VA staff make special efforts during SAAM to show support for Veterans who experienced MST, by hosting awareness-raising and educational events. Also, VA’s Make the Connection website has video clips of Veterans sharing their stories of recovery, as a reminder that survivors are not alone in having experienced MST or in having the strength to recover.
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 in which one is involved against one’s 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.
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 (i.e., “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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. For help, contact your nearest VA medical center and ask to speak to the MST Coordinator.
- A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online by using the VA Facility 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Military Sexual Trauma: Provides background information about MST.
- What is military sexual trauma (MST)?
- How common is MST?
- How can MST affect Veterans?
- How has VA responded to the problem of MST?
- How can Veterans get help?
- MST Brochure for Veterans (English) / (Spanish): Provides an overview of issues related to MST and how to access VA services.
- Strength and Recovery - Men Overcoming MST: This brochure provides an overview of the needs of male Veterans who experienced MST and VA’s MST-related services for Veterans.
- Top 10 Facts about VA Services for MST: Quick reference information for non-VA service providers about VA’s MST-related services.
- VA’s Health Care Services for Military Sexual Trauma (MST): Summary of the eligibility requirements and the types of MST-related services available through VA.
- 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.
- Don't Suffer in Silence: VA Offers Help for Military Sexual Trauma (MST): In this article, Air National Guard Veteran Jennifer Norris and Army Veteran Rowdy Grigsby share their stories.
- Military Sexual Trauma: Stories from Survivors: In this article, two MST survivors, John and Glenda, share their stories of recovery from MST. They also describe how taking advantage of free services from the VA helped with this process.
- Veteran Learns to "Face her Demons" with VA PTSD Treatment: Michelle Covert had PTSD for 24 years but didn’t know it. Today, thanks to her treatment at a VA hospital, she is working, happy and determined to be a “voice of hope.”
- “I made it!”: Massachusetts Veteran with PTSD turns his life around: Rich Adams was sexually assaulted while in the Navy and retreated into a life of shame and anger. Treatment has turned his life around dramatically.
- The ‘Invisible Monster’: A Homeless Female Veteran’s Journey to Take Back Her Life from PTSD: Casondra Williams struggled after experiencing MST during her service. It took courage for her to reach out for help from the VA, but doing so has helped her take her life back.
- MakeTheConnection.net: 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.
- 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.