Creating pathways to healing: VA supports Military Sexual Trauma survivors


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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.

 


Portrait of James LeathemAbout 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.

 

 


 

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Comments

  1. Philicia majeski    

    Ugh I hate it when people say women are not combat veterans most would have been if it wasn’t the (redacted) companies we were in with (redacted) leadership…this makes me sooo angry some men need to keep their comments to themselves.

  2. AJ Eldridge    

    After reading the above article , I noted that vets are referred to VAs or Vet Centers. I would like for people to realize that Vet Centers are only for combat vets. There are hundreds of thousands of vets who NOT combat vets and therefore not eligible for their services.

  3. lewis g wise    

    MST should have it’s own category and not lumped in with combat. I don’t think they belong as one. I don’t think the VA went far enough with their decision, as far as the fact that battery, death threats, and assault are not all the same and should be treated as such.

  4. lewis g wise    

    I don’t think MST should be lumped all together as PTSD, that’s way to general a way of dealing with this kind of trauma. Years ago when I first sought help, the VA was at best insensitive to my special needs. I believe that I have been a victim of a one fix cures all approach to dealing with my MST ! In the early 2000’s my family insisted that I get help other than once a month for 1/2 hour and got me into rehab at the Bay Pines VA in florida for a month of daily therapy . I was placed in general population, there was never any mention of MST and certainly no focus on this particular problem. Then after 28 days they threw me back out on the street without so much as a kiss. The whole content of my problem was swept under the rug, and they wouldn’t allow me any more time in that facility…REBT is a guilt based therapy and certainly doesn’t solely offer any constructive therapy for MST.

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