VA believes in survivors of military sexual trauma

Sexual Assault Awareness Month


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It can be very healing for survivors of any kind of trauma to feel heard, validated and supported as they recover. This can be especially true for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST), many of whom may be suffering alone – feeling ashamed, disconnected or unable to talk with anyone about their experience.

That’s why, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, VA’s message to MST survivors is this: We believe you – and we believe in you.

Throughout the year, VA reaches out to Veterans. It encourages them to join a community that listens, understands the potential impacts of MST, believes in survivors’ resilience and can help them continue to heal.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month every year, VA redoubles its efforts to raise awareness about its free services to support survivors’ healing and recovery across a variety of settings.

VA believes MST survivors

“MST” refers to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurs during military service. Service members of all genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds have experienced MST.

MST can affect both physical and mental health – sometimes even years after the experience(s). It can lead to challenges with strong emotions, sleep disturbances, relationship and trust issues, and unsafe coping behaviors, among others.

Many MST survivors do not want to tell others about their experiences. Some may worry that others will judge or not believe them. Others can’t imagine how treatment could truly help with healing, so they suffer alone. As a result, many survivors can find it hard to access care even when they need it.

That is part of why VA makes special efforts during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to raise awareness about our MST-related services.

And VA believes in MST survivors

VA stands ready to help Veterans who experienced MST and who need additional support. Eligibility for MST-related care is expansive, and no documentation of the MST experience is required. Veterans do not need to have reported the MST experience at the time, to have sought care within a certain time frame, or to have applied for service connection for an MST-related condition to get care.

To learn more, Veterans may contact a local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator, a professional at every VA health care facility. They specialize in connecting survivors with the MST-related care and services that are right for them.

Veterans can also speak with a VA health care provider. Compassionate VA professionals are ready to listen and help.

VA encourages everyone to learn about MST to discover ways to support the recovery of Veterans they care about and to become part of the larger supportive community for Veterans.

Download Sexual Assault Awareness Month resources and share them with your networks to help make sure all Veterans know about VA’s free services and support.


Jessica Keith and Chris Skidmore both work with the Military Sexual Trauma Support Team, VHA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Moirraine    

    This article is pure propaganda.

    Ever since Trump left office it doesn’t matter what you are who you are where you are if you’re a veteran you are being abused medically administratively by every single police officer who’s out here who literally harasses us now we’re being harassed by everyone you guys aren’t listening this is an article that is a lie from start to finish and you need to get off your asses and tell the truth

  2. John D Desmond    

    As a young man in 1983 in the usaf, I was raped!!! Did I tell anyone-NO! Who do you tell? My life has been a big mess since, drugs, alcohol, always moving from job to job, moving from state to state. Never trusting Anyone, avoiding any kind of relationship, keeping my distance from my family. Ten years ago I started talking about what happened to me. It hasn’t been easy and I do have bad days. I can not speak about all VA’s , but I am getting help. Please talk to someone!!

  3. Michael Mullen    

    I have begged, pleaded and even repeated a humiliating story to be turned down and turned away from compensation board. I have been waiting 3 years for a hearing despite having contracted a disease during the assault. I have told my story 18 times. To 18 different counselors. They keep trying to protect me by not describing the incident so the VA claims the trauma is unrelated. I have even gone to 2 State Senators asking for help being heard. I am offended and sickened that now the VA is willing to listen. You want to know why 22 a day take their own life?! Read these experiences!!!

  4. Craig Richard Loomis    

    I was sexually assaulted by a fellow Sailor at NTC Orlando, Nuclear Power School in 1989. Within weeks after the assault, my assailant went to school leadership to report he was gay and was discharged from the Navy. It took me 30 years to talk about the sexual assault, but in 2019, it was time. I sought assistance from my CVSO who got me into counseling through the Vet Center. The biggest insult of this article is that the VA believes MST survivors. My CVSO assisted me to file an MST claim. My claim has been denied twice and is now on appeal to higher authority which could take years. The reason for the denials…the VA and DOD will not do their due diligence and admit this other sailor ever existed. They have not pulled his record and acknowledged that he was in the Navy, at NTC Orlando during the period of the sexual assault. Without the VA and DOD doing their part required of them by law, my claim continues to be denied because there is only my side of the story, my accusation. I’m told by my CVSO it will likely take many years yet before my claim gets in front of a judge at the higher authority to hopefully force the VA and DOD to pull this other sailor’s record. So much for the VA believing MSTsurvivors….lies…all lies.

  5. Carol    

    I was a DA Civilian working for the Army when I was assaulted by an Army officer. I got nothing!!! Except PTSD and treated awful!!!! How dare I try to hurt a soldier’s career. The military didn’t pay my doctor bills that were stacking up I tried really hard to keep it together my doctor even put in my records that I am a survivor with MST. I spiraled and had to retire in 2015 from civil service on medical and my annuity stopped 2 years ago because I made to much money. It’s a shame all the work I did and support and this is how I got treated but if I were active duty things would be completely different so very very sad!!

  6. Gee Dee    

    Because I’m a male, everyone thinks I’m lying…my counselor is nice, but bc she would like to dive right into this and fix me, and I’m not ready to move forward with some of the issues I’m still having she has quite returning calls or scheduling appts

  7. Tobey Thatcher    

    I’m sorry, but I agree this is crap. I’m sure some people working at the VA are very good and some aren’t. I was once told that “I gave yellow lights” and she “wasn’t sure it was a rape” by a MST Coordinator!!! It really wasn’t helpful and I haven’t been to counseling sessions there since.
    And this isn’t even mentioning the crap the USAF gave me.

  8. Dennis D. Saam    

    The VA believes me is BULL CRAP. I did not report it in 1974 so there is no NEXUS now for a PTSD claim so I am on my own I have lived with it 45+ years on my own, with compensation, and will continue to ive with on my own. don’t say you care.

    1. Padfield    

      EXACTLY……Their analogy is is if you get stabbed in the back and you did not see it it did not happen. Yet, you have a knife in your back and know the person. Back in the day if a man reported on another man both would have been kicked out.

  9. Monique A Salazar    

    I too have been denied my MST disability twice and the appeal denied my case because nothing was reported in my military service records even though I seeked treatments after I got out of the military. Like all ya’ll said VA doesn’t care to notice that when we finally have the courage to speak up and take action you are denied because of no records. They need to really rethink their approach and why there are no records. Stupid VA if you experienced what we did you would understand there’s no help or way out of your trauma, you can’t trust your chain of command when some knows what happens and turn their backs like they know nothing. All I have to say VA you need to get it together how can you advertise MST awareness and you don’t even support and stand by the victims.

  10. Queen A    

    I am very sorry to everyone who has faced MST, especially those that have been denied benefits. I know it may seem impossible but they are ways around it as a few have stated. You can use a diary or you can get a sworn statement from your family, friends, battle buddies, etc that you disclosed the incident too.

    I wish you all the best and trust me I know the pain and suffering that is associated with it. To this day I find it hard to trust people, I find it difficult to go in public without having extreme anxiety or blackout spells. To this day, I can not work around others because of fear that somebody may take advantage of me. It is an ongoing struggle even with care, but I just want everyone to know please do not give up. Keep fighting, do not let anybody tell you to just suck it up.

  11. Nicola Poitras    

    I am so saddened to read these experiences. I was raped by 2 coworkers onboard ship, several times and was told, as most of you were, don’t say anything, it’ll ruin your career. So I didn’t I spent 18 years hiding it, sucking it up, and dealing with the anxiety attacks, suicidal thoughts, and depression. This was Desert Storm era.
    Then I met a wonderful woman at my local Vet center.
    She was my counselor for 2 years. Got me into therapy in the VA, they started me on meds for the depression. I filed a claim, nothing in my service record remember. I had family members write letters saying how I had changed from before the rapes to after, therapist documentation, and then I started getting my s*”*t together. I finalized my claim, and I got together with the DAV coordinator to help me keep track of everything. My claim was settled in 2 years. No denial.

  12. BETTY GREEN GIBBS    

    The previous responses saddens me. I was sexually harassed in the military too. I had the psychologist to say I had PTSD. I was told I needed proof because it was not documented in my file. It was not documented for some of the same reasons the previous writers did not have documentation. Fear of losing your job, dishonorable discharge, further harrassment, or fear. Those are just a few of the reasons. So what do you do, end your career early because the harrassment is affecting you mentally, emotionally and physically but they continue with their career. What about us?

    1. Robert Christopher Taylor    

      The VA could care less about male victims of MST. I have been diagnosed by the VA and two civilians that I have PTSD due to MST and TBI’s from my ex CO and they don’t do anything to help me with all the issues caused by it. I am unable to work and have had all sorts of medical and physical issues over the past 30 years from the constant rapes. But yet nothing is done.

  13. Jazzmin Joli    

    This article writer’s heart is in the right place but the VA follow-through is lacking right now. I am in treatment at my local VA and my therapist is trying to get me into any of the MST (7-week in-house va ptsd treatment for women) programs but all are on hold due to Covid-19. Do better VA, I have been vaccinated. I need help with my Trauma-reactions in order to keep my civilian job. This shit follows us and takes over at the most inconvenient times. My employer has given me a deadline. I am reaching out and asking for more than one hour a week of therapy, my Dr says I need more too. I want to get better. I want even more than my employer wants it!

  14. Queen B    

    I completely concur with everything else posted here… counselors tell you sht like this happens, the VA keeps denying you care, therapy and meds. They would rather lie about you and paint you as a drug user than treat you medically for your issues. The VA has done absolutely nothing! in 20 years for me.

  15. A Fitch    

    My MST was also many years ago. The worst event in full view of 4 military coworkers. When he finally released me I reported the event to the Gunnery Sgt who was the watch supervisor. I was told to go back to work. So his behavior continued until he transferred out. I still have nightmares, I still see the shine of the k-bar he held to my throat, feel his hands on me, his breath on my face, his threat to treat me the way he did women in Vietnam. Anxiety attacks, fear and the inability to trust anyone. But no one believes you so put on a good face and bury those feelings down deep. Someone finally helped me get in to see a VA counselor. I started to feel better. Of course the benefits were denied even though I had witnesses. LHI counselor told me that Vietnam vets were her priority and they had to come first. Part of that lip service. I had changed jobs and gone to work at the local VA hospital. Made all my counseling appointments, things were looking better. Then it happened again. I was grabbed by a patient, again with witnesses present Every old problem worsened. The counselor said it was a conflict to speak to me about the job related problem. I tried to work through it for 18 months and went to a different counselor. It became overwhelming, I surrendered and quit my job. The military didn’t listen or care, the VA didn’t listen about either event. They can’t sugarcoat the fact that nothing has changed.

    1. Michelle M Truszkowski    

      It took me 12 years of fighting and I had transcripts from an article 32 and Court martial. They tried to say it didnt happen.

  16. Alice June Eldridge    

    Sure,we were told we needed no proof. All you need to do is apply and tell your story”. Riiiiiiiiigggghhhhhttttt!!!!!!Try to remember events that occurred FORTY YEARS AGO. Waaaayyy before it politically correct or even considered a problem. Back then you told NO ONE, especially if you wanted to have a career. there is only the one message from you that is visible. I applied for a small service connected disability and was promptly denied, TWICE,

    Thanks for your help. Not again.

    June Eldridge, formerly WAC, SFC, U.S. ARMY

    1. L. Sackett    

      100% concur! Back in the 80’s and 90’s it was swept under the rug and the victim was blamed. I was told I must have exaggerated the events, I was acting too emotional and should get myself together, questioned as to how much I had been drinking. There was no disciplinary actions taken, was told to suck it up, and ultimately I was transferred to a different unit. How on earth is that to be proven now? Nothing was documented back then bc it was widely accepted behavior.

  17. Timmie Ballard    

    Did u have a “friend” that knew what u were going through? Did u write a diary? Do u know who assaulted you? All it takes is a “travel board”, reliable friend or witness. If they refuse u. They’re essentially calling your witness a liar. Also, impart to them that since this Military Sexual Assault month, you’re willing to take a lie detector test in front of FOX NEWS! I’m sure most parents would like to know what the possibilities are that their son/daughter’s chances are of being assaulted by “friendlies”! What steps they WON’T TAKE to prevent or protect them from the worst betrayal known EVER! Not to have someone’s back, when you have theirs! Very hard to live with! I fought for 17 1/2 years. Keep fighting!

    1. Jeffrey W LaFrenier    

      I decided to get VA counseling for my mental health over a year ago. During the intake I was asked if I ever experienced MST? The question caught me of guard, I wasn’t expecting it! When I confided in a counselor an experience that happened to me I too filed an MST claim and of course I was denied. The deadline to appeal has gone by and after reading these other comments I realize now it’s a bunch of bullsht ! Why does the VA even ask the question if they don’t want to hear the truth. I’ve buried my assault for 40 years – I’ll burry it for the rest of my life!

  18. maybell l wirth    

    this is a bunch of crap. for those of us who were in before it was “Politically correct” to file a MST charge we get no respect or acknowledgement that the harassment or rape actually happened. even if we complained to someone – there was no documentation as we were told “if you file a claim it will be the end of your career not the perpetrator” in addition if you saw a doctor they did not put rape in your records because your records were looked over every time you re-enlisted and the claim would not look good on the military so you would not be allowed to re-enlist. so now those of us in the service from the 1940s – 1990s had not sexual harassment or rape – no MST of any kind. because we can’t prove it, even though some of us had to have abortions (on our own dime on the economy), hospitalizations and are still traumatized from the experience. now the VA is RAPING us because there is no proof! no don’t give me “lip service” about this. the counselor i saw sad essentially to “suck it up buttercup” there’s no proof as did the benefits board.

  19. Kimberly L Itson-Thompson    

    I have been trying to get help for my mst-PTSD for over 30 years, I keep getting denied because no one will listen

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