Military Sexual Trauma - Women Veterans Health Care
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Military Sexual Trauma

Military Sexual Trauma

Military sexual trauma or “MST” is the term VA uses to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service. Both men and women, and Veterans of all other types of backgrounds have experienced MST, including all gender identities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ages, branches and eras of service. Like other types of trauma, MST can negatively impact a person's mental and physical health, even many years later. Some of the difficulties survivors of MST may experience include:

  • Strong emotions, such as feeling depressed, having intense, sudden emotional responses to things, or feeling angry or irritable
  • Feeling numb or emotionally “flat”, or trouble feeling positive emotions like love or happiness
  • Trouble sleeping or having bad dreams
  • Trouble with attention, concentration, or memory
  • Using alcohol or other drugs to cope or escape
  • Difficulties with reminders of the MST experience
  • Feeling on edge or “jumpy” or not feeling safe
  • Going out of your way to avoid reminders of the trauma
  • Self-doubt, self-blame, or low self-esteem
  • Questioning important aspects of yourself like your gender identity or sexual orientation
  • Problems in relationships, trouble trusting others, or feeling alone or not connected to others
  • Trouble with employers or authority figures, or difficulty keeping a job
  • Physical health problems like chronic pain, weight or eating problems, or stomach or bowel problems
  • Difficulties with arousal, enjoyment, performance, pain during sex, or avoiding intimacy
  • Self-harm or unsafe behaviors like thoughts of suicide, cutting, risk-taking, or aggression

Fortunately, people can recover from experiences of trauma, and VA has services to help MST survivors move forward in their lives.

VA Services for Military Sexual Trauma

If you are having current difficulties related to MST, VA is here to support you in whatever way will help you best — from simply learning more about how MST affects people, to treatment that helps you cope with how MST is impacting your life currently, or if you prefer, treatment that involves discussing your experiences in more depth. Find more information and resources.

People can recover from trauma. To help Veterans do this, VA provides free, confidential counseling and treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to experiences of MST. You do not need to be service-connected and may be able to receive this benefit even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incidents when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.

Every VA facility has a designated MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. This person is your advocate and can help you find and access VA services and programs.

Every VA facility has providers knowledgeable about treatment for the aftereffects of MST. MST-related counseling is also available at Vet Centers. Nationwide, there are programs that offer treatment in residential or inpatient settings. These are programs for Veterans who need more intense treatment and support. To accommodate Veterans who do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings, some facilities throughout VA have separate programs for men and women. All residential and inpatient MST programs have separate sleeping areas for men and women.

Veterans should feel free to ask to meet with a provider of the same or opposite sex if it would make them feel more comfortable. Service connection or disability compensation is not required to receive free treatment for conditions resulting from MST.

To Get Help

  • Speak with your existing VA health care provider
  • Contact the MST Coordinator or the Women Veterans Program Manager at your local VA Medical Center
  • Contact your local Vet Center
  • Call 1-800-827-1000, VA's general benefit information hotline
Use the VA Facility Locator to find your local VA Medical Center and local Vet Center.