Military Sexual Trauma

Rape, being sexual coerced, battery of a sexual nature, repeated, threatening acts of sexual harassment are all types of sexual trauma.  Unwelcomed sexual advances causing emotional trauma can be experienced by people in the military as well as in civilian life.  Military Sexual Trauma, or MTS, is defined 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 for training.” 

It’s hard to know how often it happens.  The figures the VA uses are approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men screened for MST respond affirmatively when asked if they have experienced MST while serving.  The rates for sexual trauma in women in the military are only slightly higher than men given the disproportionate ratio of men to women serving.

The larger issue is how it affects the person who has experienced it.  Sometimes, as in civilian life, it can follow the victim for years.  The result of sexual trauma may include the following:

  • Depression, anger and irritability
  • Numbness
  • Sleep difficulties such as falling or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Addictions
  • Flashbacks
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Physical symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also result from MST.  The extreme stress caused by trauma overwhelms the ability to cope.   Trauma can result in overeating, substance abuse, or even suicide.

 The VA has services to help Veterans who have experienced MST.  Each VA facility has a designated MST Coordinator who can help Veterans locate and access VA services and programs.  Many VA facilities have specialized outpatient mental health services focusing on sexual trauma.  Some of these facilities are offering separate programs for men and women.  Veterans do not need to have a VA disability rating to receive free, confidential counseling and treatment for MST related mental and physical health conditions.  They also do not need to have reported the incident when it happened or have other documentation that it occurred.

Again, the good news is that while trauma can affect anyone, healing is possible for everyone!   For more information, contact your MST Coordinator at the nearest VA Medical Center or your local Vet Center.  You may also call the VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

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