Military Sexual Trauma
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during military service. This can include being pressure into sexual activities with threats, being overpowered or physically forced to have sex, beings sexually touched or grabbed in a way that made you uncomfortable, including during hazing experiences. It can also include repeated comments about your body or sexual activities, threatening and unwelcoming sexual advances, or any other sexual activity where you were involved against your will or were unable to say “no.”
MST also occurs any time the survivor isn’t able to give consent, such as while intoxicated or drugged, or when they are pressured into giving consent in exchange for promises of favorable duties or promotion, or threats of harm to their career.
Both women and men can experience sexual harassment or sexual assault during their military service. VA refers to these experiences as military sexual trauma, or MST. One in four female Veterans and 1 in 100 male Veterans responded "yes" that they have experienced MST, when screened by their VA provider. Although rates of MST are higher among women, because there are so many more men than women in the military, there are actually significant numbers of women and men seen in the VA who have experienced MST.
Like other types of trauma, MST can negatively impact a person's mental and physical health, even many years later.
Some problems associated with MST include:
- Disturbing memories or nightmares
- Feelings of depression or numbness
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- Feeling isolated from other people
- Problems with anger or irritability
- Problems with sleep
- Physical health problems
- Avoidance or fear of medical exams or procedures
VA has special services available to help men and women who have experienced MST.
Healing from sexual trauma is possible, and many Veterans do heal from trauma. To help Veterans do this, VA provides treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to experiences of MST. You do not need to be service connected and may be able to receive this benefit even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incidents when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.