It’s true. No one wants to talk about MST…military sexual trauma, but it’s another elephant in the living room. I don’t know where the idea of the elephant in the living room came from, but it’s a good depiction of what it’s like trying to pretend that “nothing happened” when it really did. We all walk around pretending we don’t see the elephant (abuse) standing there, but it affects every aspect of our lives.
Military sexual trauma is the phrase used by the VA to refer to sexual assault or harassment perpetrated against individuals serving in the military. It may be a case of being pressured into sexual acts against your will, or refusing to be sexually cooperative with one’s superior officers. It may involve unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, comments about a person’s body or sexual activities or unwelcome sexual advances. It happens to men as well as women. It can cause long term damage both mentally and physically to the recipient. Some of the problems that may result as a consequence of MST include:
• Depression, anger, and irritable feelings
• Numbness and the inability to feel happy
• Sleeping difficulties
• Substance abuse
• Avoidance behaviors (looking for ways to avoid anything that brings back memories of the incident)
• Difficulty trusting others
• Difficulties in relationships
• Physical health problems such as sexual difficulties, chronic pain, weight or eating problems, or gastrointestinal problems
The VA takes MST seriously. They provide free, confidential counseling and treatment to both male and female victims for mental and physical health problems related to MST. You do not need to have reported the incident when it first happened or have documentation that it occurred.
If your medical health is compromised as a result of MST while you were serving, you may be eligible to get compensation. The VA will first determine whether there are current disabilities related to your military service. If there are, then compensation is based on the current level of impairment.
A Veterans Service Representative can explain the compensation program and assist in filing a claim. For more information, call the VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000, or contact the nearest VA Medical Center or your local Vet Center. (You may meet with a clinician of the same or opposite sex if it would make you feel more comfortable).
No one wants to talk about it, but talking about it is how you heal. Maybe it’s time now to throw the elephant out!