Survivors of military sexual trauma (“MST”) not only face physical injuries as a result of MST, but also suffer devastating emotional and mental injuries as a result of undergoing such a traumatic event at the hands of their military brothers and sisters. The battle does not end with the injuries, however. Survivors of MST then have to undergo the arduous and often-times unsuccessful task of securing compensation for their injuries through the VA. The VA offers MST screening and medical care for mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma. Care, however, without compensation, is not enough for the men and women subjected to MST and the residual effects of MST.
MST can result in long-term mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders, among others. Proving service connection to secure veteran’s disability benefits for mental health conditions as a result of MST can be especially difficult. The evidentiary standard currently established by the VA essentially ignores the realities and unique circumstances surrounding MST. Lay testimony is often insufficient to prove MST as the MST survivor must also present corroborating evidence of the sexual trauma – a difficult feat considering MST is often under reported, if reported at all, and because the Department of Defense’s MST record retention policy, as of December 2011, allowed for destruction of such records after five years. Even with corroborating evidence, the VA does not always give adequate weight to such evidence in deciding service connection for mental health conditions related to MST. The VA has taken steps to issue guidance to VA adjudicators regarding how corroborating evidence, such as behavior changes after an alleged attack, should be treated and weighed in deciding service connection.
VA records support statistics that indicate that the VA has granted service connection for PTSD caused by MST at significantly lower rates than it has granted claims for PTSD from other causes. Statistics also reveal that males and females are treated disparately by the VA when it comes to MST-related mental health claims. For example, every year from 2008 to 2012, the grant rate for MST related PTSD claims was 16.5 to 29.6 percent lower than the grant rate for PTSD claims unrelated to MST. Because female veterans’ PTSD claims are more often based on MST, females are disproportionally affected by the low grant rates. Of those males who do file MST related claims for PTSD, those males face a particularly low grant rate as compared to females filing the same claims.
Are you a veteran who suffers from a mental health condition related to a military sexual trauma? Call on the experienced veteran’s disability attorneys of Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. for help and a free case evaluation. Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. serves veterans throughout the Gulf Coast, including, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.