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Veterans Health Administration

Military Sexual Trauma

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VA Helps Women Vets Learn to Trust Again

About 1 in 5 women have told their VHA health care provider that they experienced sexual trauma in the military. On MakeTheConnection.net, you can hear compelling stories of recovery from women who have experienced military sexual trauma.

By finding the strength to reach out for help and connect with others who had similar experiences, they were able to get on a path of healing and learn to trust again.

What is MST?

Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. MST includes any sexual activity where someone is involved against his or her will.

An experience does not have to involve physical force for it to be MST.

For example, someone may have been threatened with negative consequences if they did not participate in sexual activities or may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated).

Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities, and threatening or unwelcome sexual advances could also be considered causes of MST.

Every VA healthcare facility has a Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator.

Recovery is Possible

Sexual trauma, like other forms of trauma, can affect a person’s physical and mental health, even many years later. Both men and women experience MST, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse are some of the mental health diagnoses most commonly associated with MST for both men and women.

Veterans who experience MST may experience difficulties with feelings of numbness, trouble sleeping, difficulties with relationships, and problems with alcohol and drugs. A number of physical health problems have also been found to be associated with MST, including chronic pain, sexual difficulties, and weight or eating problems.

Not all MST survivors experience these difficulties, but for those who do, recovery is possible.

VA offers many resources to help with the recovery process, including free treatment for any mental and physical health conditions related to MST. To qualify for these services, Veterans do not need to be “service connected” and may be able to receive services even if they are not eligible for other VA care.

Veterans do not need to have reported incidents when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred. Treatment can help improve a Veteran’s quality of life by focusing on strategies for managing emotions and memories or, for Veterans who are ready, involve actually talking about their MST experiences in depth.

Services Are Available at Every VA Medical Center

Every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who can answer any questions about VA’s MST-related issues and provide access VA services and programs. VA also has a range of other services available to help Veterans with their recovery:

  • Every VA health care facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for problems related to MST. Many facilities have specialized outpatient mental health services focusing on sexual trauma. Vet Centers also have specially trained sexual trauma counselors.
  • VA has almost two dozen programs nationwide that offer specialized MST treatment in a residential or inpatient setting. These programs are for Veterans who need more intense treatment and support. Because some Veterans do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities have separate programs for men and women, and all residential and inpatient MST programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.
  • Veterans can ask to meet with a clinician of a particular gender if it would make them feel more comfortable.

For More Information

Veterans can speak with their current VA health care provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center, or contact their local Vet Center. A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online by using the VA Facility Locator or Vet Center Locator or by calling the VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

Information in Spanish is available in this brochure:
La información sobre el trauma sexual military en español (PDF).