Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual observance in April to raise public awareness about sexual assault. VA’s SAAM campaign focuses on sexual assault and sexual harassment occurring during military service – also known as military sexual trauma or MST. This year’s theme across VA is Creating Pathways to Healing: VA’s Services for Military Sexual Trauma Survivors.
VA chose this theme to highlight the many ways for Veterans to recover from sexual trauma, as well as the role of VA’s programs and services in helping Veterans find the paths to healing that are right for them. As Ashley Casto, Ph.D., who serves as the MST Coordinator at the Lexington VAMC, explains: “We need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s important to highlight the multitude of holistic and recovery-based treatments that are available through the VA.”
VA’s free MST resources
VA offers a wide range of services, free of charge, to support Veterans recovering from physical or mental health conditions related to their experiences of MST. No documentation of MST experiences is required, and Veterans may be eligible for free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services. In addition, every VA health care system has an MST Coordinator who serves as a point person for MST-related issues at the facility and can help Veterans access relevant VA services and programs.
Sarah Raymond, Ph.D., is the MST Coordinator at the Richmond VAMC. “Veterans may not always be ready for mental health treatment,” she notes, “but services such as chaplaincy and recreation therapy can be an alternate venue where they can feel heard, connect to others, and increase their ability to trust others, which may lead them to eventually participate in mental health treatment.”
About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men report a history of MST when screened by a VA health care provider.
Although rates are higher among women, because of the larger number of men in the military about 40 percent of the Veterans seen in VA who report MST are men.
MST Coordinators and other VA staff show support year-round for the many Veterans who have been affected by MST, including during SAAM when they host special events to raise awareness and provide education about MST. In addition, VA’s Make the Connection campaign videos are available anytime and include many of Veterans sharing their stories of recovery from MST. These videos are a reminder that survivors are not alone in experiencing MST and finding their paths to recovery.
For more information about VA’s MST-related services, Veterans can speak with their existing VA health care provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VAMC, or contact their local Vet Center. VA and Vet Center facilities can be located at www.va.gov/find-locations. Veterans can also learn more about VA’s MST-related services at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.
About the Author: James Leathem is the Field and Dissemination Lead on VA’s national Military Sexual Trauma Support Team. Before joining the MST Support Team, he was the Social Work Section Chief for Mental Health at the Northport VAMC in New York, as well as the MST Coordinator and VISN 3 MST Point of Contact. He holds a Master of Education and a Master of Social Work.