Veterans with MST find strength, recovery in community


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Each April, the annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign helps to raise public awareness of sexual assault, and educate individuals and communities on sexual violence prevention. This year, VA’s national theme for SAAM outreach activities is “Recovery from Military Sexual Trauma: Strength in Community.” VA specifically focuses on sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service—also known as military sexual trauma (MST).  

Reflecting on the theme, Christine Cooper, MST coordinator at the Lebanon (Pennsylvania) VA, commented, “It reinforces that our Veterans who experienced MST have us and the community to walk alongside them on their healing journey. No more hiding or shame.” 

When screened by a VA health care provider, about one in four women and one in 100 men report a history of MST. Although the percentage among women is much higher—given the far greater number of men in military service—there are significant numbers of both men and women who have experienced MST. In fact, more than 40 percent of the Veterans seen in VA who disclose MST are men.   

mst_communityFor many survivors, a sense that they are alone can be an incredibly difficult part of the experience of MST, and connecting with a community of support can be very powerful. “Connecting with the strength in community takes both a degree of open-mindedness and courage,” said Gary Napier, a licensed clinical social worker, and MST coordinator at the Topeka (Kansas) VA Medical Center. ”I think connecting with community is the scariest thing for many of our Veterans with MST to do.”  

In light of this, MST coordinators and other VA staff make special efforts to show their support to these Veterans during SAAM, hosting awareness-raising and educational events nationwide. And VA’s Make the Connection website features video clips of Veterans sharing their stories of recovery—a reminder that survivors are not alone in having experienced MST, or in having the strength to recover.   

At VA, Veterans who experienced MST have access to a wide range of services and care with providers who are knowledgeable about treatment for the aftereffects of MST. In addition, every VA health care system has an MST coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues at the facility and can help Veterans access relevant VA services and programs. 

All treatment for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST is provided free-of-charge and is unlimited in duration. Veterans may be eligible for free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services, and service connection (VA disability compensation) is not required; no documentation of MST experiences is required. VA also engages in a range of outreach activities, ongoing staff education, and monitoring of MST-related screening and treatment, in order to ensure that adequate services are available. 

For more information, Veterans may speak with a VA health care provider, contact the MST coordinator at their nearest VA medical center, or reach out to their local Vet Center. A list of VA and Vet Center facilities is located at http://www.va.gov/directory. Learn more about VA’s MST-related services at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.

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LeathemJames Leathem is a member of VA’s national MST Support Team, where he serves as the field and dissemination coordinator. Prior to joining the team, he was the section chief of social work for mental health at the Northport (New York) VA, as well as the MST coordinator and the MST point of contact for the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 3. He holds a master’s in education and a master’s in social work.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Candy    

    I was raped while in school in San Antonio, Texas. It caused unspeakable horror and trauma in my life. I reported it to my Commander, who I respected greatly, but was a young soldier and wanted to make the military a lifelong career. My Commander told me I would be passed over for promotions, and it would be a ” black mark” in my file. I took his advice, and I kept it to myself. It has ruined my life. I have attempted suicide, have anger issues, trust no one, and have mental issues. I am receiving help, and it is a day to day struggle. For me, ending my life, is still an issue. When you don’t deal with it, it will come back to haunt you. Don’t do what I did.
    I love my country, and I am proud to have served in the Military.

  2. Robert R. Hogendyk    

    I served in the Navy from 1964-1967 on a minesweeper. I was raped by a Lt. He was my division office. I was a seaman (e3) could not not say a word an he knew it. Would not let me advance to E4 because I would get transferred off the ship. Who was going to believe an enlisted man over an officer? So I eventually went AWOL that was my only way off. Spent time at Portsmouth Naval Prison in Kittery, Maine. Went back to duty after my time in prison and finished my enlistment. But have been angry ever since. I am very thankful that the VA has finally recognized that there was and is a problem. Not only with women but men also.

  3. Donna    

    As long as the Commander is in control of the punishments, these sexual offenders will continue getting promoted while the victim more often than not will be coerced into leaving the military, often with no benefits. They will just move the offender to another base.

  4. Mic Robertson    

    Thanks for the article even if it is a day late and a dollar short! Got 60% rating for MST/PTSD recently. Unfortunately they didn’t bring charges against anyone. It also came after $27,000. Of uninsured therapy. The cost of being pre-9/11!

  5. Mark Smith    

    This helps, thank you for bringing this topic to the open.

  6. Grace Baber    

    Thank you for this article.

  7. Lafretia yeggins    

    Thanks for recognizing this problem! There needs to be a way of punishment for the person who inflicts this hurt!

    1. Grace Baber    

      The term “Statute of Limitations” is complete rubbish to protect the perpetrator(s). Who made such a stupid rule and how does one go about abolishing it?

    2. Robert Millan    

      My name is Robert Millan, Hispanic; Honorable discharged, Army (1969-1972 Vietnam era) was raped by a Sergeant while station in Fort Leonard Wood Missouri and then by a military police officer in Okinawa Japan.

      VA stills does not want to recognized what happened to me saying that I only suffer from PTSD with depression??? Why can they say PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma?

      My condition is recorded in my medical records and the doctors in the Army knew I was a timed bomb with the “potential to act out” (so the Dr. wrote). Yet the military (VA) still does not want to admit that nor give me a 100% compensation for it.

      I have written numerous letters to Senators, Congressmen and Woman and even to the President and they (my letters) keep being sent to some representatives from the VA and still get no help. Can anybody help? 11-10 Malone Dr. Orlando Fl 32810

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