Making a case for military sexual trauma for female veterans

A lot has changed since the 1950s when only 2 percent of the U.S. armed services were women. Although women make up less than 20 percent of the total number of active and reserve service personnel, the nature of warfare has changed and women are suffering from the same types and severity of injuries as their male counterparts.

According to the Veterans Administration (VA), there are nearly 800,000 veterans in North Carolina and nearly 20 percent of those veterans have service-related disabilities. As more women join various branches of the military, more return home with injuries sustained during their service to their country.

Women are the fastest growing segment of the veteran community and, in 2011, the VA created a Women Veterans Task Force (WVTF), in part to create a strategy for providing better assistance to women injured during military service. The WVTF has been tasked with creating awareness of services and organizations available to women veterans, such as the:

  • Center for Women Veterans
  • Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group
  • Office of Mental Health Services
  • Women Veterans Coordinators
  • Secretary's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans

Women veterans also suffer from unique issues that most male veterans do not, an issue the VA and WVTF are also attempting to address.

Military sexual trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST) has been getting more press lately as the number of women veterans grows. While both men and women can be victims of MST, it more commonly happens to women. MST refers to sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurred while the victim was serving in the military. Examples of MST include:

  • Remarks made to a person about his or her body or sexual activities that are threatening, harassing or offensive
  • Unwanted sexual contact such as grabbing or fondling
  • Physically or mentally forcing a person to engage in sexual activity
  • Implying faster promotion or better treatment in exchange for sex
  • Threatening demotion for failure to comply with sexual advances

MST has physical and mental ramifications and contributes to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For women, providing proof of an event that led to MST-linked PTSD can be quite difficult so the VA uses changes in behavior to help provide evidence of claims. Such corroborating evidence may include the following:

  • Requests for transfer
  • Onset of panic or anxiety attacks
  • Depression
  • Declining work performance
  • Unexplained behavior changes

A lawyer can help

Despite the efforts by the VA, the system is increasingly overwhelmed with disability claims. It can take nearly a year to obtain an initial decision regarding a submitted claim and, if the claim is denied, an appeal can add months to the process. Meanwhile, injured veterans go without badly needed benefits.

If you suffer from an injury or disabling condition from your service in the military, seek the advice of an experienced disability lawyer. An attorney knowledgeable about veteran benefits may be able to help you obtain the compensation to which you are entitled.