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.