Hi, my name is Jessica. I’m here to talk
about military sexual trauma, or MST. That’s VA’s term for when someone is sexually assaulted
or sexually harassed during their military service. I’m an MST survivor, and there’s
more to it than you think. People think of sexual assault as being violent,
and it can be. But MST also includes very serious acts such as being pressured into
sex or being threatened. And any situation where you couldn’t give consent, like being
drugged, intoxicated, asleep, or unconscious. MST includes sexual harassment, too. Like
sexual jokes about you, or being touched in ways that make you uncomfortable. Or someone
coming on to you repeatedly. Or being promised something in exchange for sex, like better
duty assignments. If any of these happened to you during military
service, it’s MST. It doesn’t matter who the perpetrator was. It also doesn’t matter
why it happened. Even if it was called hazing, or something “normal”, it’s still MST.
And MST is never your fault. About one in four women who use VA care have
experienced MST, but almost half of all Veterans in VA care who experienced MST are men. In fact, Veterans of all different ages, races,
sexual orientations, and branches of service have experienced MST. However you feel, please
remember, you are not alone. It’s normal to have strong reactions to
MST. It’s not always right away, either. I met Tomas at the VA. He’s an MST survivor,
like me. And it was years before he decided to talk to someone. I thought I could keep it buried and deal
with it myself. I only realized much later that it was affecting me and my family. Everyone reacts differently. Maybe you get
really angry, or always feel edgy or on guard. Maybe you can’t sleep, or you struggle to
get thoughts about MST out of your head. Maybe you can’t do what you want to do, because
it seems unsafe, or you have to avoid reminders. You may feel ashamed, like you should have
been able to stop it. Maybe you think it says something bad about you or changed you for
the worse. MST can affect relationships, too. My family
was the main reason I got help. Maybe you’re having more fights or just can’t feel love,
happiness, or trust like you used to. Maybe work or school are getting hard. Sometimes
we drink or use drugs to escape or cope. Or take risks to get a natural high. If this sounds familiar, that’s normal.
But please know that healing is possible, no matter how damaged you may feel. It doesn’t
matter how long it’s been; you can get your life back. You deserve that. I went through these things myself and hurt
for a long time. Getting help was definitely the right call for me. VA is committed to
supporting your path to healing, too. Deb is the MST Coordinator at my VA. Every
VA medical center has one. She was one of the first people I talked to. She really understood.
She answered my questions and got me connected. Thanks Jessica! The first steps can be the hardest, but our
job is to help Veterans recovering from MST get the care they need. We want all Veterans
to know these important facts: Care for MST-related health problems is confidential
and free of charge. You don’t need disability benefits or a
VA disability rating in order to get care. No documentation of the MST experience is
required and you don’t need to have reported the MST. It doesn’t matter how long ago you experienced
MST. You may be able to get care even if you’re
not eligible for other VA services. The doctors and counselors at VA are trained
to provide the kinds of care proven to help with trauma. To learn more, call the main number of your
VA and ask for the MST Coordinator. Or ask your current VA doctor. Your local Vet Center is another great resource.
MST-related counseling is available at Vet Centers. MST survivors don’t need to have
served in a war zone to be seen there. Also visit VA’s MST website. Read about
VA’s services and Veterans’ stories of recovery, and learn about getting help if
you need it. You don’t have to go through MST alone.
VA is here to help.