Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the veteran was in the military. It includes any sexual activity where someone is involved against his or her will--he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person's body or sexual activities; and/or threatening or unwelcome sexual advances.
Both women and men can experience MST during their service. All veterans seen at VA health facilities are asked about experiences of sexual trauma because any type of trauma can affect a person's physical and mental health, even many years later.
More background information about MST is available in this VA document, Military Sexual Trauma.
MST Can Affect a Person's Mental and Physical Health
Some of the difficulties both female and male survivors of MST may have include:
- Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional reactions to things; feeling angry or irritable all the time
- Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally "flat;" difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness
- Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares
- Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or "high" to cope with memories or emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep
- Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or 'jumpy' all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences; difficulty trusting others
- Difficulties in relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures
- Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal problems
(This list is from a VA brochure about MST)
Treatment for symptoms of MST
There are effective treatments that can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
Filing a claim for VA disability compensation
The VA processes disability claims for conditions resulting from Military Sexual Trauma.