About one in five women and one in one hundred men have reported to their Veterans Affairs health care provider that they’ve experienced military sexual trauma (MST). It is a problem that has grown more as more women have joined the military. The Department of Defense has developed strategies to curb sexual trauma, and VA hospitals across the nation have implemented programs for outreach, staff training, screening and treatment. VA has special services available to help women who have experienced military sexual trauma (MST) but many veterans think much more needs to be done.
The American Legion staff in Washington, D.C., hosted a women veterans focus group on November of last year to discuss key issues affecting women veterans and service members. Among the issues military sexual trauma (MST) was a topic the group discussed in detail. The group noted that women serving in the National Guard can file MST claims if they are assaulted during a two-week training period. "But women cannot file such claims if they’re sexually assaulted during a weekend drill," said Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division. "This restriction needs to be eliminated. A rape is a rape, regardless of what day it happens. This kind of policy only trivializes the severity of the crime. The Army needs to change this policy asap." The American Legion is the nation’s largest veterans service organization in the country.
According to VA, MST can cause post-traumatic stress and depression. VA facilities now have MST coordinators to field calls from victims, and the department’s central office in Washington has recently hired a women’s mental-health program manager. The Department of Defense (DoD) has at least one sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) at each post or base. A restricted reporting system that preserves confidentiality for MST victims has also been created, which doesn’t automatically trigger an investigation by military authorities. An MST victim first speaks with an SARC, who then explains options for redress or treatment that are available to the individual. DoD also has created Safe Helpline for MST victims that has an online chat capability and a telephone hotline.
“Sexual assault is a crime that has gone on for too long, with too little done to stop it,” Jennifer Hunt, a member of the Army Reserve from Connecticut, told the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2010, speaking on behalf of the advocacy organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Defining Military Sexual Trauma
Both women and men can experience sexual harassment or sexual assault during their military service. VA refers to these experiences as military sexual trauma, or MST. Like other types of trauma, MST can negatively impact a person's mental and physical health, even many years later. Some problems associated with MST include:
- Disturbing memories or nightmares
- Difficulty feeling safe
- Feelings of depression or numbness
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs
- Feeling isolated from other people
- Problems with anger or irritability
- Problems with sleep
- Physical health problems
How to Get Help
- Speak with your existing VA health care provider
- Contact the MST Coordinator or the Women Veterans Program Manager at your local VA Med. Center
- Contact your local Vet Center
- Call 1-800-827-1000, VA's general benefit information hotline
Use the VA Facility Locator to find your local VA Medical Center and local Vet Center.