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.
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.
This short video provides information about the types of incidents that constitute MST, the effects of MST on survivors and the services available to Veterans who have experienced MST:
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.
- Men and MST – Educational brochure English / Spanish and Infographic English / Spanish – These resources provide information on men’s recovery from MST.
- Women and MST – Infographic English/Spanish – This provides information on women’s recovery from MST.
- Help for Veterans Affected By Recent Public Discussions About Sexual Abuse – Information, coping suggestions, and resources for connecting with care for Veterans who may be feeling distressed by recent public discussions about sexual assault and harassment.
- 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.
- When a Victim Becomes a Victor: This Navy Veteran Stands on His Story of Military Sexual Assault: Navy Veteran Timothy Jones shares his story of coming forward and recovering from MST, and the courageous steps he took to accept assistance from VA homelessness and mental health programs along the way.
- 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.
Community Provider Toolkit
This toolkit summarizes key educational and outreach resources for providers in the community who want to learn more about MST and VA’s free MST-related services and to enhance the services they provide to Veterans who experienced MST.
- National Center for PTSD course: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Experiences of Sexual Assault During Military Service
- MST is an experience, not a diagnosis, and many survivors do not have PTSD. However, PTSD is commonly associated with MST. This course reviews the mental health impacts of sexual trauma, unique issues for female and male survivors, and implications for care. There are also other PTSD 101 courses here including “Military Culture and PTSD”, which will help you understand the context in which survivors experience MST.
- Online MST course from PsychArmor Institute
- This training provides a general overview of MST and is designed to be applicable to healthcare providers broadly. It defines MST, describes the health and general impact of MST, provides information on how to screen for MST, and describes the MST-related services available through VA. Requires free registration on the PsychArmor website, which offers access to many other helpful courses.
- MST Overview for Civilian Providers
- This presentation gives an overview of key information and resources related to military sexual trauma for civilian providers. It also provides helpful guidance for how to understand and respond to patient behaviors, and how to screen for and respond to disclosures of MST. Finally, it offers suggestions for how to adapt care if needed, including responding to strong reactions to standard exams and procedures.
- Building Hope and Resiliency online course
- Helps active duty Service members begin to recover, heal, and enhance their resiliency after a sexual assault. Also useful for providers working with active duty Service members.
- VA MST “Articles and Fact Sheets” tab
- Has downloadable brochures for Veterans, educational tools for providers, and articles that help survivors and providers learn more about MST and VA’s free and confidential MST-related services. The “Other Resources” tab also has links to other online resources for Veterans and active duty Service members.
- The PTSD Consultation Program
- Any provider treating Veterans with PTSD can ask experts a question or request consultation by emailing PTSDconsult@va.gov or calling (866) 948-7880. They also have a free online lecture series on topics relevant to treating PTSD:
- Find Local MST Training at VHA Facilities
- Call your local VA health care facility and ask to speak to the Employee Education System specialist to learn whether MST training is available in your community.