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Learn About the Impact of Sexual Trauma

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by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, April 11, 2013

Healing Starts With Knowing the Facts

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:

  • feelings of numbness
  • trouble with attention, concentration, and memory
  • relationship problems
  • trouble sleeping
  • problems with alcohol and drugs

While MST itself is not a diagnosis, it can result in a mental health diagnosis, including

  • PTSD
  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • drug and alcohol abuse

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.

A woman looks at a decorated t-shirt hanging from a clothesline

T-Shirts bear witness to how their creators’ lives have been affected by MST.

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:

  • VA has a range of services available to meet Veterans where they are in their recovery, including outpatient, residential and inpatient treatment options.
  • All treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to experiences of MST is provided by VA free of charge.
  • Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability and may be able to receive this free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA care.
  • Every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who can answer any questions Veterans might have about VA’s MST-related issues and help Veterans access VA services and programs.
Mental health worker listens to a Veteran

All treatment for conditions related to MST is provided free of charge.

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.

A list of VA health care and Vet Center facilities can be found using the VA Facility Locator, the Vet Center Locator or by calling VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

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.