Military sexual trauma, or MST, is a term that’s used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer to any experience(s) of sexual assault or sexual harassment a Veteran may have undergone during their military service.
The Department of Veterans Affairs claims that they’re ‘strongly’ committed to working towards making help available to every Veteran who may, unfortunately, be in this position.
MST is inclusive of any type of sexual activity that a Veteran was/is involved in without their consent – some examples of this may include, but may not be limited to the following:
Unwanted/Threatening Sexual Advances.
Comments/Remarks Regarding Your Body/Appearance.
Being Pressured into Sexual Activities Due to Threats or Promises of Better/Worse Treatment.
Hazing Experiences Involving Unwanted Sexual Touching/Grabbing.
Sexual Activities Made Possible by the Use of Force.
Situations Involving Intoxication/Unconsciousness Used to Bypass Consent.
How Common is MST?
Sadly, MST occurs quite frequently within the armed forces – but, what’s even worse is that it’s not always reported.
The Department of Veterans Affairs National Screen Program works to ask every Veteran seeking out or receiving health care if he/she has experienced MST at any point in the past and the data that has come forth from this has been quite alarming.
Data shows that 33% of women and 2% of men in the armed forces have experienced MST at some point.
While only 2% of men have come forth and said in some fashion that they’ve been plagued by this terrible occurrence, that number is believed to be much larger – with many deciding not to come forward due to the fear of retaliation by their peers.
In 2019, the United States Department of Defense released their annual report on sexual assault in the military, and it was found that an estimated 20,500 service members have experienced MST in some way, shape, or form.
That number was made up of 13,000 women and 7,500 men – up from 14,900 in 2016.
How Can MST Affect Veterans?
Unfortunately, most people make the incorrect assumption that MST is a diagnosis like cancer or a mental health condition like bipolar disorder, but that’s not the case.
MST is neither of those things – MST is an experience and one that will affect each individual differently. Some of the difficulties one may have after MST include:
Physical Health Problems: This can include sexual difficulties, chronic pain across the body, weight gain or extreme weight loss, and gastrointestinal issues.
Relationship Difficulties: This can include the feeling of isolation or a general sense of disconnect from others, abusive relationships, trouble with parents, employers, and authority figures in general, and a general lack of trust in others.
Substance Abuse Problems: This can be inclusive of drinking to excess or using drugs daily. Most victims choose to get intoxicated or “high” to cope with the memories and emotional distress caused by MST.
Sleeping Difficulty: Many have reported or been known to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, while others also reported having disturbing nightmares.
Feelings of Numbness: Some have reported feeling “emotionally flat” where they feel incapable of feeling love and/or happiness as an emotion.
MST and PTSD
Sadly, MST often results in PTSD for the victims involved – however, the existence of MST does not directly result in PTSD surfacing.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide benefits to MST victims although they do provide benefits for those diagnosed with PTSD.
Some of the symptoms associated with PTSD that can occur after an MST incident are as follows:
Avoiding Other Individuals.
Inability to Feel Safe.
Fear of Other Individuals.
Physical Health Problems.
Tests for STDS.
MST-related PTSD requires two specific elements. The first of which requires one to have credible evidence that can help establish that a trauma-producing event took place (MST) during their military service.
The second element required is a connection between the event itself and the resulting symptoms of trauma within an individual.
With that said, the Department of Veterans Affairs does openly understand that many instances of MST are not reported at the time in which it takes place.
They allow victims of these circumstances to provide them with “markers” to demonstrate the existence of MST, those may include the following:
Reports from Mental Health Counselors/Rape Crisis Centers.
Statements from Individuals Familiar with MST.
Journals or Personal Diary Entries.
Military Personnel Records.
After any credible evidence and connection requirements are established, the VA will most likely ask the victim in question to take a Compensation and Pension exam (C&P exam). This will help determine if you meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis and whether a link between MST and PTSD is prevalent in your situation.
In 2011, nearly 60% of all claims for PTSD unrelated to MST were accepted, while only 35% of claims for MST-related PTSD were accepted – however, in 2022, those numbers are nearly identical.