Thousands of women veterans are struggling to get VA disability benefits for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by sexual trauma they suffered while in the military. The VA is slowly coming around to recognizing the severe mental and social problems caused by Military Sexual Trauma (MST), but critics of the VA say the department is stuck in the past.
As the Number of Female Soldiers Has Grown, So Too Has the Number of Sexual Assault Cases
MST is defined as “unwanted contact” ranging from sexual innuendo to groping to rape and it is a serious problem within military units. With the number of women veterans at an all time high – an estimated total of 2.2 million and more than 280,000 who have returned from duty in Afghanistan and Iraq alone — they represent the fastest growing military population. While the Pentagon has taken the lead with some very high profile programs to eliminate MST and punish offenders, one in every four female veterans say they experienced sexual harassment or assault during their time in the service.
For a number of reasons, it has difficult for female veterans to qualify for disability compensation for PTSD caused by MST. In many cases there is no paper trail to support MST claims. Critics say the military fosters a culture of denial and secrecy that discourages women from filing claims of sexual attack. Since many survivors of sexual trauma lack a traditional paper trail, VA officials who evaluate claims have to search for what they call “markers,” that is secondary evidence, which can give some indication that the traumatic event occurred. While the list of secondary evidence is long, collecting it is vital to filing a successful claim for benefits. Secondary evidence will often include things such as records from law enforcement, rape crisis centers, hospitals or physicians; pregnancy tests; statements from family members or fellow service members; or social problems like divorce or substance abuse.
VA officials say that they are encouraging female veterans to reapply for benefits for PTSD caused by sexual abuse and that they are reopening old cases. If you are the victim of MST and your case has been denied, you have the right to appeal. As Nebraska and Iowa attorneys accredited by the VA, Cuddigan Law will give you a free evaluation of your situation, call us at 402-933-5405 or email us at [email protected].