Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty (or active duty for training if the service was in the National Guard or Reserves). VA health care professionals provide counseling and treatment to help Veterans overcome health issues related to MST. Veterans who are not otherwise eligible for VA health care may still receive these services. Appropriate services are provided for any injury, illness or psychological condition related to such trauma.
Both women and men can experience MST during their service. All Veterans seen at Veterans Health Administration facilities are asked about experiences of sexual trauma because we know that any type of trauma can affect a person's physical and mental health, even many years later. We also know that people can recover from trauma. VA has free services to help Veterans do this. You do not need to have a VA disability rating (be "service connected") to receive these services and may be able to receive services even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.
While MST can be a very difficult experience, recovery is possible. At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. You may be able to receive this MST-related care even if you are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, you do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process.*
VA has a range of services available to meet Veterans where they are at in their recovery:
- Every VA health care facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for problems related to MST. Because MST is associated with a range of mental health problems, VA's general services for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and others are important resources for MST survivors.
- Many VA facilities have specialized outpatient mental health services focusing specifically on sexual trauma.
- Many Vet Centers also have specially trained sexual trauma counselors.
- VA has programs that offer specialized MST treatment in a residential or inpatient setting. These programs are for Veterans who need more intense treatment and support.
- Because some Veterans do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women. All residential and inpatient MST programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.
How can I get more information about services?
- Knowing that MST survivors may have special needs and concerns, every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. He or she can help Veterans find and access VA services and programs.
- You can also contact your local Vet Center or speak to your existing VA health care provider.
- A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online by using the VA Facility Locator or Vet Center Locator. Veterans should feel free to ask to meet with a clinician of a particular gender if it would make them feel more comfortable.
- Veterans can also call VA's general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000. Information in Spanish is available in this brochure (PDF).
Other Veterans Health Administration Responses to MST
VA is implementing a variety of initiatives to support its mission to help with the recovery of Veterans who experienced MST.
- Recognizing that many survivors of sexual trauma do not disclose their experiences unless asked directly, it is national VHA policy that all Veterans seen in VA health care are screened for experiences of MST.
- This is an important way to make sure that Veterans are aware of VA's MST-related services.
Staff Education & Training
- All VA mental health and primary care providers must complete a mandatory training on MST. This helps ensure they have the training and background they need to work effectively and sensitively with Veterans who experienced MST.
- VA also has a range of additional MST training opportunities available for health care staff, including monthly national training calls, an annual national conference, and web-based resources.
- National initiatives within VA to disseminate evidence-based psychotherapies (EBPs) for mental health conditions have also helped ensure that Veterans who experienced MST have access to cutting edge treatment approaches.
- To help ensure Veterans are aware of VA's MST-related services, health care facility MST Coordinators and other staff engage in outreach and other efforts to facilitate access to care.
- Every April, VA facilities throughout the country host awareness and informational events in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
- VA has partnered with the Department of Defense to make information about VA's MST services available to staff and Servicemembers, particularly those Servicemembers being discharged.
*As with other injuries or disabilities incurred during service, Veterans can file a claim to receive compensation for any MST-related injuries or disabilities that began or got worse during their military service. More information is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/serviceconnected/MST.pdf