On December 1, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced expanded eligibility for Veterans in need of mental healthcare, due to military sexual trauma (MST).
MST is the name given to any sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred to a man or woman during military service. MST could refer to rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, but may also include any sexual activity performed against one’s will, either through physical force, threats of negative consequences, implied promotion, promises of favored treatment, or sex without consent due to intoxication.
In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health reported MST rates among U.S. Veterans returning from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be 15.1% among female Veterans and 0.7% among male Veterans. But it is widely believed that incidents of sexual trauma are largely underreported in the military community.
Under the authority given to the VA from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, the VA will expand eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to MST, to include more members of National Guard and Reserve units. This expansion gives the authority to offer Veterans the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST that occurred during a period of inactive duty training.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald met last week with Ruth Moore, name giver of the Ruth Moore Act of 2013. Moore is a Navy Veteran and MST survivor who was raped twice while in the service. The Ruth Moore Act passed in the House, and is currently in the Senate, and if passed, will make provisions for MST victims, including treatment for PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Moore will be working with the VA to ensure that MST survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that Veterans who experienced MST have access to medical and psychological care.
The VA is working to ensure that all healthcare services are provided to assist Veterans recovering from experiences of MST. Every VA healthcare facility has an MST Coordinator who serves as a point of contact for MST-related issues.
All VA healthcare resources for mental and physical health conditions related to MST are provided free of charge. Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability or be seeking disability compensation to be eligible for MST-related counseling and care. Veterans also do not need to have reported such incidents to the Department of Defense, or possess documentation or records to support their assertion of having experienced such trauma. And Veterans don’t need to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system to qualify for MST-related treatment.
Veterans can learn more about the VA’s MST-related services online by visiting www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.
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Military Connection: VA Expands Sexual Trauma Plan: By Debbie Gregory