Sexual assault while serving in the military can have a profound impact on mental and physical health, even years after the trauma occurred. The VA classifies this as Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Veterans who have developed injuries related to a sexual assault during their time in the military can be considered eligible to receive disability benefits. To do so, you would need to file a veterans disability claim with the VA. Veteran disability claims attorneys can provide informative guidance and practical support as you navigate the VA disability claims system.
For many survivors of sexual assault, this can be an emotionally fraught process, with the additional stress of meeting deadlines, tracking down medical and service records, documenting your injuries, and continuing to seek treatment. Our team of reputable VA-accredited attorneys can offer unparalleled service based on our extensive experience handling veterans disability claims, including those pertaining to MST. We will treat your case with the sensitivity and respect it deserves. For additional details about how our team can support you in filing a veterans benefit claim, give us a call at (866) 481-5347 or fill out our online contact form today.
Veterans Can File Disability Claims Based on Military Sexual Trauma
To obtain benefits in a veterans disability claim, you need to be able to demonstrate that your Military Sexual Trauma caused a mental or physical injury or made a pre-existing condition worse. Survivors may be physically injured during the course of the assault, leaving them with injuries that interfere with their ability to function socially or occupationally. In severe cases, a veteran with a high disability rating may be eligible for benefits like Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
For mental injury disability claims, the VA requires proof of a traumatic event or recurring incident that led to or aggravated your mental injury. Sexual violation qualifies as a traumatic event based on the VA’s criteria. Survivors may struggle with sleep, depression, irritability, anxiety, and self-esteem all of which can prevent them from maintaining meaningful relationships and performing at work. This can render them eligible for veterans disability benefits depending on their needs.
One of the most common injuries cited in MST-related veterans disability claims is PTSD. The VA accepts a wide variety of direct and indirect evidence for PTSD related to sexual assault. For example, survivors can use statements from counselors or fellow service members, civilian police reports, pregnancy tests, or documentation of anxiety or suicidal thoughts, to substantiate their account of events. The VA will require proof of a PTSD diagnosis, and then conduct a C&P exam to determine your level of disability. Based on your disability rating, you can make a claim for benefits.
Sexual Assault Remains a Persistent and Alarming Issue in the Military
While the military has made efforts to improve the reporting process for MST and the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual assault, data collected by the Department of Defense indicates a disturbing rate of sexual violence and harassment. A recent DoD report states that a staggering 1 in 3 women have experienced Military Sexual Trauma at some point in their service, as well as 1 in 50 men. As of 2021, 1.5% of men and 8% of women in the military had reported unwanted sexual contact within the past year of their service alone.
The following groups of service members are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted:
- LGBTQ+ people
- Younger service memebers
- Unmarried service members
- People who have previously been sexually assaulted
- Lower-ranking service members
- Enlisted service members
Risk Factors of Sexual Assault in the Military
Sexual predators are more likely to be male and have a history of sexually assaulting others. Other risk factors include alcohol involvement, holding beliefs that rape can be justified, and a male-dominated workplace. Sexual assault is most likely to occur during basic training or after a recent duty transition.
The statistics from the DoD are already concerning, but when the reporting rate is factored in, they become even more grim. This data reflects an estimated reporting rate of 20%, which is likely attributable to factors like fear of retaliation or further harassment, a desire to forget the experience, feelings of shame, and a lack of confidence that appropriate action will be taken against the perpetrator. The Biden administration has taken steps to make the prosecution process more transparent by removing the choice to pursue charges from the hands of commanding officers and placing it with experienced prosecutors.
Sexual Assault Can Entail Mental and Physical Trauma for Survivors
It is common for sexual assault survivors to experience the effects of their trauma for many years after the original incident. Recovering mentally and physically from a violating event like a sexual assault often requires significant and ongoing support from friends, family, and medical professionals alike. It should be noted that regardless of whether or not you have proof of your MST or an associated disability rating, you can still receive care from the VA.
Common injuries include:
- Bruising on the wrists, face, or inner thighs
- Genital injury
- Fractures or broken bones
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Suicidal ideation
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Survivors may not experience any lasting physical injuries from the attack, and the lack of obvious physical trauma should never be used as a reason to dismiss an account of sexual assault. In fact, severe external physical injuries are relatively uncommon in sexual assault cases.
In terms of physical ramifications, STDs or pregnancy are often significant concerns. Survivors of sexual assault may also develop substance abuse issues or eating disorders that harm their health. Veterans disability claims can provide survivors of MST with compensation for their physical and mental injuries related to sexual assault they endured while serving.
Contact Our VA-Accredited Lawyers About Your Veterans Disability Claim
If you are considering pursuing a veterans disability claim after experiencing Military Sexual Trauma, having a reliable, VA-accredited team of lawyers supporting your efforts can lend valuable expertise. We are members of SWAN and NOVA, which is reflective of our level of dedication to veterans' causes. As veterans ourselves, we understand that survivors may be hesitant to revisit the subject of their sexual assault with the VA.
Our skilled team has years of experience advocating for survivors, so we know that it requires patience, meticulous attention to detail, and a high level of commitment to successfully secure benefits in an MST-related disability claim. You can trust us to validate your experience, respect the nuances of your case, and work tirelessly on your behalf to reach a fair resolution.
The VA has recently updated its system for processing MST disability claims, so if your claim for benefits was denied, you should consider reapplying. Our team can assist you in appealing a denied veterans disability claim or filing a new MST-related claim for benefits. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (866) 481-5347 or fill out our online contact form today to learn more about how our VA-accredited attorneys can help you secure the disability benefits you are entitled to receive.