April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month when VA shares information about the impact of sexual trauma and the services VA has available for Veterans who experienced military sexual trauma (MST).
MST is the term used by VA to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment during military service. About one in five women and one in 100 men seen in VA medical facilities report that they experienced MST. By itself, MST is not a diagnosis, it is an experience.
Veterans have a wide range of responses to MST. MST can continue to affect a Veteran’s physical and mental health many years afterwards. Emotional responses to MST include:
While MST itself is not a diagnosis, it can result in a mental health diagnosis, including
MST can also take a toll on physical health. Veterans with MST may have chronic pain, sexual issues, or stomach trouble as a result of experiencing MST. It’s important for Veterans to know that recovery is possible, and that VA is ready to help.
Every year during this month, VA facilities across the country host events designed to raise VA staff and Veteran awareness of MST. VA has established a mandatory training requirement on MST for all mental health and primary care providers.
While some activities hosted by VA facilities are focused on raising awareness among VA staff, other events provide the opportunity for Veteran survivors to speak up publicly about their experiences in a supportive environment.
For example, many facilities are hosting “Clothesline Projects” in which Veterans decorate T-shirts in ways that reflect their experiences of sexual trauma and recovery. Shirts are then hung side-by-side to bear witness to how their creators’ lives have been affected by MST.
Here are some facts about VA services for MST that everyone should know:
For more information, Veterans can either speak with their current VA health care provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA medical center, or contact their local Vet Center.
More information is also available at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.
You can also see videos featuring the recovery stories of Veterans who have experienced MST by visiting the Make the Connection website.
For additional information, read www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/military-sexual-trauma-general.asp and www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.