Depending on what statistics one views, military sexual trauma (“MST”)
is significantly under-reported -- as many as five in six incidents of
MST are not reported. Although MST can and does exist against men and
women, it is by far suffered disproportionately by women. For example,
while women comprise 14 percent of the Army ranks, they account for 95
percent of all sex crime victims. A recent VA survey found that one in
four women said they experienced sexual harassment or assault.
Military service members who have experienced MST traditionally face multiple
problems in obtaining a disability rating based on the assault. First,
as noted, many assaults go unreported. Former Secretary of Defense Leon
Panetta estimated that incidents of sexual assault are roughly six times
as high as reports of the crimes. In one year recently, there were 3,191
reports of sexual assault throughout the U.S. military, but then-Secretary
Panetta said that the true estimate is closer to 19,000.
The reasons for not reporting the sexual assault can be the same as in
the civilian world – the shame that comes from being identified
as a victim of sexual assault, the fear that one will not be believed
–but survivors of MST face special hurdles that civilian survivors do not.
The military’s traditionally male-dominated culture, the uneven response
by commanders to MST reports, and the insular environment in which the
military operates all contribute to under-reporting. However, for many
survivors, particularly women, there is a more compelling reason not to
report. For many women, reporting means damage to their career.
As a result, when the VA is processing disability claims based on MST,
there are often not sufficient records for the VA to adjust the claim.
This is compounded by a VA that is still not equipped to deal with women
veterans on the whole. For example, a third of VA medical centers have
no gynecologist on staff. Many have only recently opened female restrooms.
VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, a retired Air Force brigadier
general, said she is considering asking the Pentagon to allow the VA's
benefits department to look at sexual assault "restricted files,"
dealing with a sexual assault case reported inside the military but deemed
private. This would allow the records in those files to be used in considering
In addition to the records problem, there are larger problems with the
way that the VA processes disability claims. Many of the claims are still
handled using paper, instead of electronically. Although the VA has been
working to cut down the backlog, there has been criticism of those efforts
and it remains to be seen how effective they will be.
There are signs of improvement. According to a Washington Post article,
in the two-year period from 2008 to 2010, only about one-third of PTSD
claims related to MST were approved. Today, according to the VA, roughly
55 percent of those claims are granted. While this statistic in and of
itself may or may not indicate progress, the VA seems to be cognizant
of at least the need for change.
Proving your entitlement to a veterans’ disability claim can be difficult.
The VA process is hard to understand, and there is no guarantee that your
claims administrator will apply the murky rules as they were intended
to be applied. Having the assistance of someone who understands the process,
your rights, and how to navigate the difficult VA disability bureaucracy
can make all the difference.
The knowledgeable military veterans attorneys at The Federal Practice Group
Worldwide Service have years of experience dealing with military regulations
and administrative processes. Many of the firm’s attorneys and other
professionals are veterans themselves and understand your fight.
If you or a loved one believes you have a military disability claim, let
the experienced military veterans’ disability attorneys at The Federal
Practice Group Worldwide Service help. Contact The Federal Practice Group
Worldwide Service today for an evaluation of your military veterans’