For many trauma survivors, it can be tremendously affirming to learn that someone believes them, takes their experiences seriously and believes in their ability to heal with the right tools and support. This can be particularly true for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST). During Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April and throughout the year, VA shares this message of validation and support with all MST survivors: We believe you, and we believe in you.
What is MST?
MST, or military sexual trauma, is sexual assault or harassment that occurs during military service, whether on or off duty and on or off base. Anyone in the military can experience MST, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, branch of service, or physical size or abilities.
MST can include:
- Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment.
- Sexual contact or activities without your consent, including when you were asleep or intoxicated.
- Being overpowered or physically forced to have sex.
- Being touched or grabbed in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences.
- Comments about your body or sexual activities that you found threatening.
- Unwanted sexual advances that you found threatening.
MST is an experience, not a diagnosis, and it can affect survivors in a variety of ways. Although MST can be life altering, survivors are remarkably resilient. Some recover on their own. Many, however, feel the mental and physical effects for a long time, even years after.
The experience of MST may lead to depression, family and relationship challenges, work difficulties, sleep issues, anxiety, isolation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious challenges.
Healing after MST can take time. No matter how long it’s been, VA is here to help. VA offers survivors treatment for the impacts of MST to help them on their path toward healing.
VA believes in many paths to healing
At VA, those who experienced MST can find the support they need to heal physically and emotionally. Treatment is free and personalized to your needs and preferences. Eligibility for VA’s MST-related care is expansive. You may be able to receive this care even if you are not eligible for other VA services. There is no time limit on receiving care and you do not need to have documentation or to have reported an MST experience at the time it occurred to get this care.
For Veterans and former service members who have a mental health diagnosis, such as PTSD or depression, related to an experience of MST, evidence-based therapies may help. Treatment may involve addressing immediate health and safety concerns, learning more about how MST affects you, practicing strategies for coping with challenging emotions or – if you are ready to do so – talking more about your experiences of MST.
Work with your VA provider to determine the treatment that best meets your needs, values and preferences.
Every VA health care facility has an MST coordinator. The coordinator serves as a contact person to assist Veterans and former service members in accessing MST-related care. For more information about VA’s MST-related services, call your local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator.
You may also wish to explore:
- VA’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month page, where you can learn about MST and find ways to help spread the word to survivors about VA’s free MST-related services.
- Beyond MST, a free, private and secure mobile app with more than 30 specialized tools and other features to help MST survivors cope with challenges, manage symptoms, improve their quality of life and find hope. Users also can track their well-being and progress toward personal goals. You do not need to be in treatment to use the app. Any personal information entered in the app is not shared with anyone, including VA.