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Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is a reality for many service members. It’s a term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment.

The impact of MST is far-reaching. It affects not only the survivors but also their families, friends, and the military community as a whole. In this article, we delve into the definition, prevalence, and types of incidents classified as MST. We also explore the psychological and physical impacts of MST on survivors. Our aim is to shed light on this critical issue, provide valuable information for survivors, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about MST.


What is Military Sexual Trauma (MST)?

Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, is a term coined by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Veterans Affairs defines MST as a psychological trauma. This trauma results from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment. The incident must have occurred while the veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

The definition of MST is not limited to physical sexual assault alone. It also includes threats, unwanted sexual attention, or even offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities.

The incidents that qualify as MST can occur on or off base, during peacetime or war. They can be perpetrated by individuals of the same or opposite sex, and rank or status does not matter.

  • Sexual Assault: This includes any unwanted sexual activity forced on a person without their consent.
  • Sexual Harassment: This involves repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.

Understanding MST is the first step towards addressing its impact. It’s crucial to recognize the breadth of experiences that fall under this term to provide appropriate support and resources to survivors.

Military Sexual Trauma Statistics

Military Sexual Trauma is a pervasive issue within the military. The Department of Defense’s annual reports provide some insight into the prevalence of MST. In the fiscal year 2018, the Department of Defense estimated that about 20,500 service members experienced some form of sexual assault. This was an increase from the 14,900 estimated in 2016. However, these numbers only represent reported cases. Many incidents of MST go unreported due to fear of retaliation, stigma, or lack of faith in the reporting process.

  • Women: Approximately 1 in 4 women veterans report experiencing MST.
  • Men: While the percentage is lower for men, the large number of men in the military means that many are affected by MST.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address MST within the military.

Psychological and Physical Impacts of MST

The impact of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) extends beyond the immediate incident. It can have profound psychological and physical effects on survivors.

Psychologically, survivors of MST may experience a range of mental health issues. These can include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. They may also struggle with substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.

Physically, MST can lead to various health problems. These can include chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, and gastrointestinal issues. Some survivors may also experience changes in weight or sleep disturbances.

The psychological and physical impacts of MST can also intersect. For example, a survivor might experience physical symptoms as a result of psychological stress. Conversely, physical health issues can exacerbate mental health conditions.

It’s important to note that the impacts of MST can persist long after the incident. They can affect a survivor’s daily life, relationships, and ability to work. Therefore, comprehensive care that addresses both psychological and physical health is crucial for MST survivors.

Veterans Disability Benefits and MST

Veterans who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST) may be eligible for disability benefits. These benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

How is MST Rated by the VA? Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is evaluated as a mental health condition according to 38 CFR § 4.130. Ratings vary from 10 to 100% based on the following criteria:

  • The degree of social and occupational impairment.
  • The frequency, duration, and severity of symptoms outlined in the criteria.


100% VA Rating for MST. This rating indicates total social and occupational impairment, characterized by symptoms like:

  • Severe impairment in thought processes or communication.
  • Intermittent inability to perform daily activities.
  • Persistent delusions or hallucinations.
  • Inappropriate behavior.
  • Continuous risk of self-harm or harm to others.
  • Disorientation.
  • Memory loss.

70% VA Rating for MST This rating reflects significant occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in various areas such as work, family relationships, and judgment, because of symptoms like:

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Challenges in establishing relationships.
  • Obsessive rituals interfering with routine tasks.
  • Incoherent speech.
  • Continuous panic or depression affecting independence.
  • Impaired impulse control.
  • Spatial disorientation.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene.
  • Difficulty adapting to stress.

50% VA Rating for MST This rating indicates occupational and social impairment affecting reliability and productivity, due to symptoms like:

  • Reduced emotional expression.
  • Relationship and work challenges.
  • Tangential speech.
  • Frequent panic attacks.
  • Difficulty with complex tasks.
  • Memory issues.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Motivational and mood disturbances.

30% VA Rating for MST This rating signifies occupational and social impairment with occasional work efficiency decrease and intermittent inability to perform tasks, characterized by:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Mild memory loss.
  • Suspiciousness.
  • Regular panic attacks.

10% VA Rating for MST This rating reflects minor social and occupational impairment due to mild, transient symptoms that affect work efficiency during stressful periods or are controlled by continuous medication.

The VA recognizes MST as a potential cause of mental health conditions such Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

To qualify for benefits, veterans must provide evidence of the trauma and its impact on their mental health. This can include medical records, therapy notes, or personal statements. The VA recognizes that given the fear of reporting there may not always be direct evidence of MST. Therefore, Veterans can use indirect sources of evidence to establish the occurrence of MST such as a change of behavior in service, demotions in rank, requests for transfers, or even requests for STD testing in service.

However, the process of obtaining benefits can be complex and challenging. If you have been denied, Chad Barr Law can help. Chad Barr Law’s veterans’ disability appeals lawyers can provide valuable assistance in obtaining benefits for veterans.

How a Veterans Benefits Lawyer Can Help

Our veterans benefits lawyers at Chad Barr Law can provide invaluable assistance to MST survivors. They can help navigate the complex VA benefits system and get you the military sexual trauma VA rating you deserve. We assist in gathering necessary evidence and preparing a strong claim. We represent veterans in any appeals process if the claim is initially denied. With our knowledge and skills, Chad Barr Law can help ensure that MST survivors receive the benefits they are entitled to.