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Military Sexual Trauma (MST): How to Get Service Connection

Military Sexual Trauma (MST): How to Get Service Connection

Robert: Hi, this is Robert Chisholm from Chisholm
Chisholm & Kilpatrick and with me today is Barb Cook, also from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick
and today we’re going to be talking about military sexual trauma cases and how they’re
handled at the VA. Can you tell us how VA defines military sexual
trauma? Barb: Sure. They define it as a psychological trauma that
results from a physical assault or battery of a sexual nature or a psychological trauma
that results from harassment, sexual harassment, which they in turn define as repeated and
unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature. Robert: So when we started handling these
claims in the early days, let’s say in the early 1990s, I used to think of MST and PTSD
as — MST really as a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder claims but they’re not really,
are they? Barb: I don’t think so and I think that the
VA still primarily perhaps exclusively considers them that way. But in fact, it’s any psychological trauma. The diagnosis does not have to be post-traumatic
stress disorder or PTSD. It could be depression. It could be anxiety. It could be as I said, any psychiatric or
psychological diagnosis. In addition, it could be a physical diagnosis
that results from the psychological trauma. Robert: Are there any particular challenges
that a veteran faces who was the victim of a sexual assault in service? Barb: Absolutely. The survivors of these assaults frequently
do not report them and one of the requirements for VA is that, in these cases as well as
in many cases, the underlying event has to be established as having occurred. It’s not enough simply to show that one has
the diagnosis. One has to show that the diagnosis is related
to something that happened in service while the person was on active duty. Robert: So, let me ask this question. If these events are not typically reported
and one can imagine why they wouldn’t report them during service, how does one go about
establishing that the trauma actually occurred? Barb: VA recognizes this problem and so it
does have special rules in terms of MST cases that explicitly instruct the adjudicators
of these claims to look beyond the military records. And the individual’s failure to report the
event at that time, and the fact that the incident or incidents are not recorded in
the person’s military records cannot as a matter of law be used against the individual. Instead, VA allows the person and instructs
its adjudicators to have a very wide range of ways of trying to show that the underlying
event occurred. These can focus on changes in behavior at
that time, changes in social behavior such as becoming more reclusive, changes in economic
behavior, getting into debt. It can be a request for transfer with — when
there’s not really a basis for it. It could be substance abuse, alcoholism, and
changes in behavior in terms of being less productive at work. The examples are broad and non-exhaustive. It’s just any possible way of showing that
these — that the person was affected by something. She may have — she or he may have reported
it to a friend, a relative, a minister, and those reports could happen at the time of
the event or it could happen later particularly for example, if the person is in therapy and
starts to recall or is able to describe what happened. Robert: So you said a couple of important
things there, if I could just review. So, let’s say, a veteran comes to you and
served say in the 1970s and let’s say that they were a victim of a sexual trauma but
there’s no evidence of it specifically in the service records, that is it wasn’t reported. And let’s say that the service records show
that the veteran’s performance dramatically dropped after service. Would that be a marker or something that the
VA could rely on to show that possibly that was the reason? Barb: Yes, absolutely. And, one of the other things the VA allows
in these cases is that a VA therapist could look at that information and that therapist
could say then, “Yes, this is evidence that this event occurred,” and VA can use the therapist,
the mental health professional’s statement as the proof it needs to show that the event
actually occurred. Again, even though it’s not reported in any
official record. Robert: The other thing you said when we were
just talking was that, it could happen to a woman obviously but it can also to men. Is that correct? Barb: Yes, absolutely. The VA itself estimates that approximately
50% of the claims are filed by men. Robert: And, are there any specific rules
with reference to confidentiality of how these claims are processed by the VA? Barb: Well the VA has confidentiality rules
that apply to all of its claims of — no one has access to them with limited exceptions
to information in the records. That’s true at the Regional Office level. It’s true at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals
level. When the cases are filed at court, sections
of the claims file are also filed as part of the court’s docket and those are also confidential. Those are limited in terms of who has access
— members of the court, the attorneys, or advocates representing the individual. In MST cases, in addition, it is possible
at court to ask the court to seal the record which means that no member of the public would
be able to see any part of the pleadings filed in court. And it is also possible and we have done this successfully, to ask the court to permit the survivor to pursue the claim under a pseudonym such as
Jane Doe or under initials, not the individual’s initials but just made up initials, so that
the record again is not accessible to anyone other than members of the court and counsel. Robert: Do you believe that the VA with this
regulation that they now have is adjudicating all these claims properly? Barb: No, I do not. I think that they make mistakes. They — I do think as I indicated before that
they often narrowly limit the types of diagnoses that they would consider proper for this consideration. I think that they don’t always look as expansively
as they might in terms of what evidence of behavior changes or what other evidence, not
just behavior changes but things like a person getting a pregnancy test or getting a series
of pregnancy tests or testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Things like that which can all be evidence
that shows that the individual did suffer at the time. So no, I don’t think that they do. They also tend not to look at reports from
non-VA healthcare providers, which is one of the things that they — that claimants
can be helped with is getting a non-VA healthcare provider to actually review the records and
make this assessment that can then help show that the diagnosis is related to the underlying
event. Robert: One last question if I could and that
is, let’s suppose a veteran is denied their claim at the Regional Office. What do you recommend? Barb: I recommend that they appeal it. I also recommend that they get the help of
an experienced and trained advocate to help them negotiate through the system. It’s a long process. It’s a challenging process. The VA’s paperwork can be very confusing and
it helps to have someone who knows what they’re doing to get through the process. Robert: Is there anything else you have that
you want to talk about in terms of these MST cases? Barb: As with all claims, I feel that the
VA compensation is a contract that we have as a nation with people who serve. And, this is not a gift. This is not something people should be reluctant
to take advantage of. We cut a deal with people who volunteer and
who do serve that says, “If you are injured on active duty, we will help take care of
you,” and that’s what this is all about. Robert: Thank you Barb. Barb: Thank you. Robert: This is Robert Chisholm and Barb Cook
from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. Thank you.

Reader Comments

  1. Not sure I understood correctly. Does the VA automatically (if eligible) categorize a compensation as a PTSD? For example, if I have a 10% ptsd and I get awarded compensation for sexual trauma, does my PTSD rating increase or does it categorize my disability in another  category?

  2. Being a veteran is very hard. I have MST and deal with trama everyday i now have decided to take a stand with She's a Veteran. A organization dedicated to women of the armed forces. I am raising awareness for MST the disabled and for those with PTSD. Please donate to this cause it will be greatly appreciated. FB- she's a veteran/ cashapp-$sheaveteran

  3. I got 70% for depression but I wanted to add a claim for MST because I feel like the depression started with MST in the first place. I never talked about it in service though.

  4. I have sexual trauma from the military. I got injuries and the military screwed me around really good. My ass hurts and there is nothing i can do about it.

  5. Showing real evidence is difficult especially in an environment encouraging you to keep your mouth shut. That's my story. It's happened a long time ago. It's going to be a long road.

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