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Benefits for Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

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Sexual harassment and assault are disturbingly common among American service members. It is estimated that one in 16 women and one in 143 men experience sexual assault within the Department of Defense (DoD), while that number rises to one in six women and one in 29 men at military service academies. Roughly one in four women and one in 16 men experience sexual harassment. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) classifies sexual assault in the military as “Military Sexual Trauma” and provides veterans disability benefits for its survivors. If you believe you may qualify, please contact our veterans disability law firm.    

What Is Military Sexual Trauma? 

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service. It is a broad category, and. Includes any sexual activities that occur against the victim’s will or where the victim feels that he or she is unable to say no. It encompasses: 

  • Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities (can be accomplished through threats of negative treatment for refusal or positive treatment for acquiescence)
  • Sexual activities committed without the victim’s consent (e.g., the victim was asleep or intoxicated) 
  • Being physically forced into sexual activities 
  • Being touched in a sexual way without consent
  • Comments about the victim’s body or sexual activities
  • Unwelcome or threatening sexual advances

If you served in the military and experienced any of these, you should consider contacting a Long Island veterans disability lawyer who can advise you on your next steps. 

Long-Term Health Effects of Military Sexual Trauma

MST is not a one-off event; unfortunately, many survivors of sexual abuse develop long-term psychological disorders that can significantly affect their ability to work and engage in the activities of everyday living. These often include: 

  • Disturbing memories or nightmares
  • Feeling generally unsafe 
  • Depression or numbness
  • Anxiety or panic disorder 
  • Alcohol and drug dependence 
  • Isolation from friends and loved ones
  • Problems dealing with anger, irritability, or other strong negative emotions
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Guilt, self-doubt, and decreased self-esteem

Perhaps the most serious MST-related health disorder is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can cause the victim to experience repeated, vivid flashbacks of a traumatic event and is associated with significantly diminished health outcomes. 

Eligibility for VA Disability Benefits 

Survivors of MST are eligible for VA disability benefits through separate eligibility rules. While the VA does not consider MST itself to be a disabling condition, any conditions developed as a result of MST (such as PTSD) are considered disabling conditions. To qualify for VA disability benefits for MST, the applicant must show: 

  1. A current physical or mental condition that affects the body or the mind
  2. An event, injury, or illness that occurred while the applicant was serving in the military
  3. A link between the applicant’s current disability and the event, injury, or disease that occurred during the applicant’s military service

The eligibility requirements for MST-related VA disability benefits generally are less stringent than those for ordinary VA disability benefits, and veterans may qualify for MST-related benefits even if they do not qualify for other VA services. For example, there is no length of service, income, or other standard eligibility requirements. MST applicants also do not need to be service-connected or have been given a specific diagnosis. Most importantly, incidents do not need to have been reported at the time they occurred. The perpetrator’s identity (i.e., whether he or she was a service member or a civilian), and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator does not factor into the applicant’s eligibility determination. 

Helpful Evidence when Applying for Disability After Military Sexual Trauma

While an applicant for VA disability benefits for  MST need not have reported the incident at the time it occurred, he or she must still meet the VA’s three eligibility criteria noted above. Such evidence needed for veterans’ disability benefits can include: 

Evidence of the incident: 

  • Service medical or personnel records documenting that the MST event occurred
  • DoD sexual assault or harassment reporting forms
  • Investigative reports completed during military service 
  • Personal diaries or journals kept at the time of the incident
  • Statements from colleagues, family, friends, counselors, or clergy 
  • STD/HIV or pregnancy tests

Evidence of behavioral changes: 

  • Requests for transfer or relief of duty
  • Alcohol or drug dependence
  • Hospitalizations for anxiety, depression, or panic disorder
  • Suicide attempts
  • Statements from colleagues, family, friends, counselors, or clergy 

Contact a Long Island Veterans Lawyer for Disability Benefit Help

If you are a survivor of MST, you deserve the full benefits to which you are entitled. To get started with a claim, please contact Turley, Redmond & Rosasco by using our online form or by calling us at 516-745-5666 (Garden City), 631-582-3700 (Ronkonkoma), or 631-399-0400 (Shirley/Riverhead).

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