MST-Related Treatment and Support | Resources for Veterans
Military Sexual Trauma
Military sexual trauma can be a very difficult life experience, but recovery is possible. VA offers a range of services to meet MST survivors where they are in their recovery. Treatment for any physical or mental health condition related to MST is provided free of charge, regardless of when the MST occurred.
Eligibility for MST-Related Care
MST-related services are available at any VA health care facility for Veterans and most former Service members, including those who received an Other Than Honorable discharge or served for fewer than two years. Standard length of service requirements do not apply to eligibility for MST-related care, and some individuals may be able to receive MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA care. Service connection (that is, a VA disability rating) is not needed.
MST-related care is also available to former National Guard and Reserve members with federal active duty service or a service-connected disability who were discharged under honorable conditions or with an Other Than Honorable discharge. The service-connected disability does not need to be related to their experiences of MST.
Current Service members also can receive services related to MST. At VA’s community-based Vet Centers, current Service members — including members of the National Guard and Reserves — can receive MST-related mental health counseling regardless of gender or era of service. No Department of Defense (DoD) referral is needed, and services are confidential with respect to DoD. In addition, current Service members can also receive MST-related care at VA medical facilities with a DoD referral and TRICARE authorization. General TRICARE copayment requirements may apply. Current Service members’ records from services at VA medical facilities are available to DoD through VA-DoD open health care record sharing.
Individuals are not required to have reported their MST experiences when they happened or have documentation that they occurred in order to receive care.
- Every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues and who can assist you with accessing care. For questions about treatment and health care options related to MST, contact the MST Coordinator nearest you.
- MST-related outpatient services are available at every VA medical center and many VA community-based outpatient clinics. Services are organized differently at different facilities, and MST-related care is available even if a facility does not have a specific MST treatment team. Mental health services include psychological assessment and evaluation, medication evaluation and treatment, and individual and group psychotherapy. Treatment for physical health conditions related to MST is also available.
- Many VA clinics offer the support of professionally trained and certified Veteran peer specialists who are part of an individual’s treatment team. By drawing on their personal experience, peer specialists inspire hope, serve as recovery role models, and help Veterans with healthy coping strategies. MST survivors can receive peer support services after getting a referral from a health care provider at their local VA facility.
- Community-based Vet Centers provide MST-related outpatient counseling and referral services in a nonmedical setting.
- In some cases, VA may cover the costs of health care services with a non-VA community provider if a VA provider determines that receiving care from the community provider is in an individual’s best medical interest or if services are unavailable at a VA facility in the individual’s area. Talk with your local MST Coordinator to learn more.
- For individuals needing more intensive support, VA also provides MST-related mental health treatment in residential or inpatient settings. Because some individuals who experienced MST do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women. All residential and inpatient programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.
- Individuals can request a clinician of a particular gender if it helps them feel more comfortable.
- You don’t need to discuss or disclose your MST experience when registering with VA. Just ask to meet with a VA health care professional for a clinical evaluation. The provider can discuss your health concerns and help refer you to the MST-related mental health or medical care you need.
MST is an experience, not a diagnosis. As with other forms of trauma, MST can impact you in different ways. No matter what you are experiencing, treatments and resources are available, and VA supports many paths to healing from the impact of MST.
For individuals who have mental health diagnoses such as PTSD or depression related to the experience of MST, evidence-based therapies are among the most effective treatments. They can include the following — which are in many cases available at a local VA medical center.
- Prolonged Exposure (PE) helps individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD to gradually approach and address traumatic memories, feelings and situations. By confronting these challenges directly, you may see PTSD symptoms begin to decrease.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) helps individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD to identify how traumatic experiences have affected their thinking, to evaluate those thoughts, and to change them. Through CPT, you may develop more healthy and balanced beliefs about yourself, others and the world.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) helps individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD process and make sense of their experience of trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a structured, time-limited therapy that can help individuals who experience depression, anxiety, substance use disorders or other mental health difficulties. This treatment can help you develop balanced and helpful thoughts about yourself, others and the future. CBT can help you modify your thought patterns to change negative moods and behaviors.
- Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a therapy that can help individuals who experience depression focus on identifying and evaluating relationship issues that may contribute to their depression. IPT can also help you build social skills to deal with problems in your relationships and improve your overall quality of life.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps individuals overcome their emotional pain by promoting positive actions and choices that align with their values. Through this therapy, you may improve your ability to recognize and achieve what truly matters most to you in life.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) helps individuals with substance use disorders focus on personal motivations for change. In this therapy, you’ll look at the reasons behind your desire to make a change and the potential benefits of that change.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) helps individuals address stress and strong emotions, learn mindfulness and distress tolerance, and develop and practice new interpersonal skills.
Explore more potential treatment options at VA by visiting the Learn About Treatment page.
Take the Next Step
In Veterans’ own words
Veterans who experienced military sexual trauma share their stories. They describe the challenges they faced and how their lives were affected. Eventually, these men and women reached out for support. Hear how they were able to get on the road to recovery.
When Matt was in the Navy, he was physically and sexually assaulted. He began drinking heavily. When he left the military, he had feelings of guilt and isolated himself. He decided to seek support at VA and began PTSD treatment. Eventually, he opened up about the military sexual trauma he experienced and with help was able to turn his life around.
Find Help Today
Each VA medical center has an MST Coordinator who can assist you in accessing MST-related care. Use the MST Coordinator locator to find one near you.
Learn more about Telehealth Options
From your home, the clinic, or the hospital, VA telehealth technologies make it easier for you to connect with your VA care team.