Military Sexual

Trauma (MST)

How Common is MST?

Among active duty military, about 5-6% of women have experienced military sexual assault, and about 78% military sexual harassment.  Following discharge from the military, a survey found 30% of women who served in the Vietnam era or later had been sexually assaulted.  In a group of women serving in the Gulf War, 8% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault during their deployment, even though that conflict was of relatively short duration.


The prevalence is much higher among women in a VA popluation, as a number of studies have shown. In a natinoal survey of 3,632 women veterans using VA, 23% reported a history of military sexual assault and 55% reported a history of sexual harassment while on active duty.  Among female patients at the Baltimore VA, 41% has a history of rape, and 60% of those rapes occurred while on active duty.  These rates of sexual assault while in the military are higher than lifetime rates among women in the general population

This situation is not unique to women; in VA health care settings, MST is a mainstream health care issue for men as well.  Even though MST is far more common in women, 54% of all VA patients who screen positive for MST are men.  Military sexual harassment is also common: about 38% of men receiving VA care have experienced sexual harassment while in the military.

Do I have to file a claim?

MST counseling is provided independent of the Veterans Benefits Administration claims process.  When veterans are screened for MST, they are informed that they are not required to have a service-connected rating from the MST incident in order to begin or continue treatment. Indeed, MST counseling can be helpful for veterans who are considering filing a claim, because:


  1. The claims process can be very traumatic for some veterans; counseling can help veterans as they think through whether or not to apply.  If they decide to apply, ongoing counseling can help support them through the process.

  2. If a mental health diagnosis (e.g., PTSD) is identified and documented in the mental health setting, this can help to substantiate a future claim.


Symptoms of MST

Men and women with a history of MST are at risk for a range of negative psychological outcomes.  PTSD is the disorder most closely associated with a history of sexual trauma, but survivors of sexual trauma are also at increased risk for depression, substance use disorders, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Survivors of sexual trauma may also struggle with a range of psychological symptoms, even in the absence of a specific psychiatric diagnosis, including low self esteem, poor self-care, difficulties with interpersonal relationships, and sexual dysfunction.  Effective mental health treatments are available to address a range of psychological conditions associated with exposure to MST. It is important for veterans to know that some types of psychotheraply focus on talking in detail about the sexual trauma and the veteran's reaction to it, while others do not.  Regardless, suffering veterans may still benefit from mental health treatments that focus on improving coping skills.