Many people are familiar with the term “sexual trauma.” However, there is a specific type of trauma referred to as military sexual trauma that is less known but nevertheless affects countless individuals each year.
Unfortunately, military sexual trauma (MST) occurs with devastating regularity within the armed forces. MST refers to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and threats of such acts that veterans experience in the course of their military service.
In some cases, MST can even trigger posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are experiencing MST PTSD, know that you are not alone. While nothing can undo the pain and trauma that you have experienced, there are things you can do to help on the pathway toward recovery.
While not offered for MST alone, veterans suffering from PTSD caused by MST may be eligible for disability compensation. The disability attorneys at Gerling Law are zealous advocates for veterans and their rights. Give our team a call today to discuss your rights and see how we can help you get the VA disability pay you deserve.
What Is MST?
So, exactly what is MST(military sexual trauma)? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines MST as any sexual activity that occurs during military service where a veteran was involved in sexual activity against their will. Common examples of MST include:
- Being pressured into sexual activities through threats or implied or overt promises of better treatment;
- Situations in which the veteran was unable to provide consent due to intoxication or unconsciousness;
- Sexual activities accomplished through physical force;
- Hazing experiences involving unwanted sexual touching, grabbing, or other unwelcome acts;
- Offensive sexual remarks that the target perceives as threatening; and
- Unwelcome sexual advances that the MST victim perceives as threatening.
Importantly, to constitute military sexual trauma, the target of the sexual activity has to be a veteran. However, the individual inflicting the sexual act, attempting the sexual act, or making the sexual remark does not have to be a veteran. Furthermore, whether the harassment or assault occurred on or off base, or while the victim was on or off duty, is not relevant.
There are many other ways in which military sexual trauma may present itself. If you have questions about whether you might be a victim of MST, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Gerling Law to discuss your situation and see how we may be able to help.
How Often Is MST Reported?
Unfortunately, when MST occurs, it is not always reported.
The VA implements a national screening program for any veteran receiving medical care to obtain data on the experiences of veterans as a whole. Data from the national screening program indicated that 1 in 3 women reported experiencing MST, while 1 in 50 men reported experiencing MST. The number of veterans who actually report the MST is much lower.
Additionally, while women report an overwhelming majority of MST cases, men can and do experience MST PTSD arising out of their military service as well.
Understandably, MST often results in PTSD for victims. However, the existence of MST does not automatically result in the victim suffering from PTSD.
The VA does not provide benefits to MST victims, specifically. Rather, the VA does offer benefits for veterans with PTSD, which can be caused by MST. Symptoms associated with PTSD that can occur after an MST include:
- Disturbing nightmares or memories about the event;
- Chronic anxiety;
- A desire to avoid people;
- Inability to feel safe;
- Feelings of depression;
- Feelings of isolation;
- Sleeping problems;
- A sudden fear of individuals of the same gender as the assailant; or
- Physical health problems.
MST-related PTSD claims require two main elements. The first element requires credible evidence establishing that a trauma-inducing event, such as MST, occurred during your military service. The second element requires a connection between the event and the resulting symptoms of trauma.
If you suffer from PTSD and believe it was caused by military sexual trauma, you may have a potential claim to receive disability benefits. Give Gerling Law a call today to discuss the particular circumstances surrounding your case.
Credible Evidence and Connection Requirements
Despite the requirement of credible evidence that the MST occurred, the VA understands that many instances of MST are not reported at the time the trauma occurred. Thus, victims can provide “markers” or circumstantial evidence of the veteran’s emotional reaction to the MST. Common markers used to demonstrate the existence of MST include:
- Law enforcement reports;
- Reports from mental health counselors or rape crisis centers;
- Medical records at or near the time of the MST;
- Statements from individuals familiar with the victim with knowledge of the MST;
- Journals or personal diaries of the victim;
- Military personnel records demonstrating a decline in behavior or performance after the MST occurred; and
- Medical records showing irregularities or signs of mental health issues.
After establishing the occurrence of the MST, you will also need documentary evidence from a medical or mental health professional indicating that your PTSD was caused or aggravated by the MST.
Gathering this documentation and information on your own can feel stressful and overwhelming. An experienced disability attorney can help you find and collect the materials you need to make the best case possible for your disability claim.
MST-Related PTSD C&P Exam
After you establish the credible evidence and connection requirements, the VA will likely order a Compensation and Pension examination (C&P exam). The C&P exam determines whether you meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis and whether your MST actually caused your PTSD.
How Can I Prepare for a C&P Exam?
One important thing to remember is that you should not skip your scheduled C&P exam. Doing so could result in a denial of your disability claim entirely.
Many professionals recommend taking a comprehensive list of the PTSD symptoms you regularly experience with you to your C&P exam. This is because many times, veterans forget the primary issues inflicted by their PTSD during the exam.
However, having a list of your most debilitating symptoms can help avoid this result during your exam and better ensure that you discuss what you need to at your C&P exam.
At the C&P Exam
At the start of your C&P exam, make sure to ask the physician conducting the exam which disabilities he or she will be evaluating. This allows you to limit your discussion to issues related to the disability that is actually being evaluated. Remember to be transparent and honest with the physician, but try not to downplay any of your symptoms.
Understandably, some of your PTSD symptoms resulting from the sexual assault might be uncomfortable to talk about. Nevertheless, painting the full picture of your trauma is vital to establishing your disability claim.
With that being said, the VA designs the C&P exam in a way meant to detect deception. Thus, do not attempt to look up the symptoms of your disability online and provide “perfect” answers during the examination.
If necessary, you may request to have a witness present with you during the C&P exam. This can prove beneficial in some cases where a witness may have observed behaviors and symptoms of your PTSD that you are unaware of.
What Should I Do After a C&P Exam?
After the exam, it is also important to write a summary of the examination as soon as possible. Try your best to include information about the topics discussed during the exam, how long the exam took, and if any questions asked stuck out at you. Forward the summary to your lawyer for safekeeping and review.
A few weeks after your exam, request a copy of the C&P exam report and provide a copy to your attorney as well. You can make the request at the VA’s Release of Information Office or at your local VA Medical Center.
The VA assigns veterans seeking disability benefits with a “disability rating” based on the severity of the disability. Disability ratings are assigned in terms of percentages, with 100% being the highest. This disability rating represents how much your disability decreases your overall health and ability to function.
The VA uses the disability rating to determine the disability compensation rate, which is used to calculate how much money you receive in disability each month. To determine your disability rating, the VA evaluates the information provided by the applicant, the results of the C&P exam, and any other information relevant to your disability claim.
50% Disability Rating
A 50% disability rating level describes disabilities that result in occupational and social impairment demonstrated by reduced reliability and productivity, evidenced by symptoms such as:
- Panic attacks more than once a week;
- Difficulty understanding complex instructions;
- Impaired short term and long term memory;
- Impaired judgment or critical thinking skills; and
- Difficulty establishing and maintaining effective working and social relationships.
These are not the only symptoms that may apply here. Thus, make sure to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced disability attorney to discuss other symptoms that you may be experiencing.
70% Disability Rating
A 70% disability rating level describes disabilities that result in occupational and social impairment demonstrated by deficiencies in most areas, including work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood. Symptoms associated with a 70% disability rating include:
- Suicidal thoughts;
- Obsessive rituals that interfere with routine activities;
- Illogical, obscure, or irrelevant speech;
- Spatial disorientation;
- Near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately, and effectively;
- Lack of impulse control;
- Difficulty adapting to stressful situations;
- Inability to establish and maintain an effective relationship; and
- Neglect of personal appearance/hygiene.
The VA uses the answers provided in your C&P examination to determine which disability rating applies to your symptoms.
100% Disability Rating
A 100% disability rating level describes total occupational and social impairment, driven by symptoms such as:
- Gross impairment in thought processes or communications;
- Persistent delusions or hallucinations;
- Grossly inappropriate behavior;
- Persistent danger of harming themselves or others;
- Intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living;
- Disorientation as to time or place;
- Inability to remember names of close relatives; and
- Inability to remember one’s own name or occupation.
Total disability individual unemployability, or TDIU, means that a veteran has been deemed to have a service-connected disability that is so severe that he or she is unable to obtain or maintain substantial, gainful employment. The VA pays individuals considered TDIU at a 100% disability rate.
C&P Exam Results
The C&P exam results indicate whether your disability claim was approved or denied by the VA. In the case of denials, the VA offers an appeal process to dispute the results.
If your disability claim is approved, the VA assigns your claim a disability rating and issues a Rating Decision. The Rating Decision states your disability rating, compensation amount, and the date your disability benefits are set to begin. If you agree with the contents of the Rating Decision, the process for filing your disability claim comes to a close. The funds should be mailed to you or deposited into your account within 15 days.
What If I Don’t Agree With My Rating Decision?
If you received a disability rating that is lower than you believe it should be, or if your claim is denied altogether, there are things you may be able to do to dispute your rating.
You can file a Notice of Disagreement with your regional VA office indicating that you disagree with the VA’s decision. This submission opens an appeal to your compensation decision. You must initiate the appeals process within a year of receiving the determination letter.
Contact an Experienced Veterans Disability Attorney Today
If you want to appeal a disability rating you’ve received, are an MST survivor, or if you have any questions at all about PTSD and sexual assault and how you may be able to recover, Gerling Law is standing by and ready to help.
Dealing with the aftermath of military sexual trauma can be devastating and confusing. As a veteran, you have proudly served this country with honor and dedication. It would be our honor to serve you in these difficult times and help you get the compensation you need and deserve.
With decades of experience helping clients in need, our disability attorneys have the expertise necessary to be fierce advocates in the fight for your rights. Go with Experience. Go with Gerling. Contact Gerling Law Disability Attorneys today to discuss your case, and see what our team can do for you.