Some Basic Elements Of An MST Claim
Military sexual trauma is very common, affecting as many as one in four female servicemembers. The term includes not only involuntary sexual relationships (e.g. a CO implies that preferential treatment will follow a sexual relationship) or repeated, threatening, and unreasonable behavior of a sexual nature.
Due to the unique nature of these claims, mostly the lack of documentation and the nature of the injury, there are some rather unique rules that govern these cases.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment – the two types of military sexual trauma – are among the most under-reported criminal and civil infractions in the civilian world. Many women do not report assaults essentially because they do not want to re-live the events, and many civilian workers do not report sexual harassment due to fear of retaliation. So, when the Veterans Administration reviews MST claims, traditional pieces of evidence, such as incident reports, are not available.
Since establishing a link between the traumatic event and military service is still an essential element of the claim, the VA will consider an array of alternative evidence, including:
- Rape crisis center records,
- Witness statements (even if the witness did not actually see the incident),
- Sexually transmitted disease examinations,
- Pregnancy tests, and
- Journal or diary entries.
In many cases, the VA will even accept indirect proof, such as marital difficulties, transfer requests, and unexplained behavioral changes, if there is no other way to corroborate the victim’s statement.
Military sexual trauma by itself is not a compensable condition, but since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or some other condition nearly always accompanies sexual trauma, this hurdle is usually not difficult to overcome.
There is a scientific link between MST and PTSD. Furthermore, doctors now understand that PTSD is not merely a processing disorder but a physical brain injury. In these instances, exposure to a traumatic event causes the amygdala to release certain hormones that alter the brain’s chemical composition. That’s why many sexual assault victims have such a hard time telling their story, because they are biologically unable to provide key details.
Of course, not all sexual harassment situations cause that type of damage, especially if the MST consisted of persistent sexual advances. But retaliation can also cause PTSD-like symptoms. Furthermore, if the applicant does not suffer from PTSD, any other condition will suffice, such as anxiety disorders, panic attacks, depression, or substance abuse.
In many of these cases, the complainant received a medical service discharge based on a personality disorder, and that designation short-circuits any claim for VA benefits. So, it is often necessary to petition the service branch to change the reason for discharge before benefits can be obtained.
In addition to the financial benefits available, which are normally retroactive to the date of injury, substantial noneconomic benefits are available as well, such as counselling and healthcare for related issues, such as venereal disease. Applicants receive these nonfinancial benefits even if the underlying claim is denied, in most cases.
Contact Tenacious Attorneys
VA benefits are available for most MST victims. For a free consultation with an experienced disability lawyer in Raleigh, contact Lunn & Forro, PLLC.