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Military Sexual Trauma

The Department of Defense (DoD) calls it Sexual Assault, but when dealing with the Veterans Administration (VA) the term is Military Sexual Trauma (MST). As a Veteran (whether female or male), one is entitled to free mental health care for MST if your experience occurred while on active duty, or on active duty for training. It seems the VA is not very stringent in their interpretation because they realize the difficulty a victim has in seeking treatment.

Under the U.S. Code (1720D of Title 38), it officially defines MST as: “Psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training.” It further defines Sexual Harassment as: “Repeated unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.” In other words, MST includes: any sexual conduct in which one is involved against their will or is forced into through unwanted touching, hostile advances that are unwelcome, or aggressive remarks about one’s body or sexual activity.

The VA understands the grievous nature of Sexual Assault and in the past five years has increased their mental health staffing by about two times in order to handle MST cases. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men suffer from the effects of MST. If you, the Veteran, have been the victim of MST, the VA wants you to call the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at your nearest VA Facility and ask for a MST screening. This author has called a number of VA Hospitals and found that most likely you will have to leave your name and telephone number on the MST Coordinator’s voice mail and a call back will be received within two to four hours. You do not have to be a patient at the VA Facility, or even be classified as disabled by MST. You do not have to have reported Sexual Assault while on active duty. The VA will accept you for screening and possible treatment on your word. You just need to be a Veteran, and have your DD214.

Because of the delicate nature of MST, and the traumatic effects the victim has suffered, some VA Facilities will have someone meet you at the door to escort you through the process if necessary. If you have not been to a VA Facility in the past, the MST Coordinator will get you through the registration process quickly. A government directive requires registration to take no longer than two weeks however; unofficial sources tell me registration often takes a couple of days, and in extreme cases a couple of hours.

In the screening process, the MST Coordinator or the MST staff will be looking for symptoms affecting the victim. Some of these symptoms are:

*Feelings of depression, strong emotional responses, and feelings of sudden anger or constant irritability.
*Difficulty in feeling happiness or love.
*Problems with eating, weight gain, chronic pain, sexual functioning, etc.
*Problems with relationships, and/or employment issues.
*Problems with sleeping and/or nightmares.
*Alcohol and/or Drug Abuse
*Problems with memory, paying attention, and concentration.
*Flashbacks or reminders of the sexual trauma suffered.

Once the screening process is completed, there may be a number of help programs available to you through federal and state benefits, and local community resources. These options will be explained in detail with you. You may be asked to take a course which will teach you all the ins and outs of treatment, and coping strategies for the trauma you have experienced. There will also be a treatment team assigned to you.

The treatment team will consist of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and/or counselors. You will be given options as far as treatments. Some of the options are individual therapy, medication therapy, group therapy, CPT, PE, in-patient treatment, and out-patient treatment, among others. The treatment usually consists of a combination of remedies that will best suit the victim, and geared towards the severity of the trauma endured.

Although all the VA Hospitals work under a commonly prescribed treatment system, it is understood that many have treatment programs which are unique to that facility. Whether these unique procedures are pilot programs or research programs can only be conjecture, but it seems the VA is on the cutting edge of alleviating the horror, and the trauma associated with Sexual Assault.

The VA estimates they treat only about 30% of the Veteran, MST victims. The MST Veteran can receive confidential, free, gender specific treatment. All that is required is a telephone call to the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at your nearest VA Facility. Those facilities are listed on line at:

http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/allstate.asp

It just makes sense. If you were a victim of MST, make the call.

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