Last year ended with a significant uptick—more than 50 percent—in the number of sexual assaults reported in the military. Defense Department officials suggest the increased willing ness of military sexual trauma, or MST, survivors to come forward reflects the change in the department’s handling of assault investigations. Regardless of the reason, this shift in numbers potentially means a higher volume of VA disability claims filed for MST-related injuries and illnesses.
“This spike in reporting, in conjunction with the changes to evidentiary requirements for claiming disabilities resulting from such trauma, gives MST survivors a better chance of establishing service-connection for their condition and, ultimately, to receive the care they need to begin recovery,” said Deputy National Legislative Director Joy Ilem.
From September 2012 to September 2013, there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault, compared to 3,374 reported the previous fiscal year. While the numbers may also reflect an enhanced understanding among service members as to what constitutes sexual assault or harassment, the bottom line is that crimes that have been historically difficult to track are generating a more visible paper trail. For veterans, this reporting only enhances their ability to have successful disability claim outcomes for MST-related physical and emotional ailments.
The VA issued letters late in 2013 regarding changes to the evidentiary standards for MST-related post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans whose claims had been denied after 2010. Those veterans were encouraged to have their claims re-evaluated by the VA.
“Since those changes were made, we have provided our National Service Officers additional training on the new rating guidelines,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek.
All NSOs and trainees underwent training on how to conduct interviews with survivors of MST.
“Our NSOs are expertly trained and prepared to meet the needs of current and future veterans,” said Marszalek. “I have the utmost confidence in our team to respectfully and diligently pursue due compensation and care for MST survivors.”
Based on a confidential, anonymous survey, Pentagon officials estimated there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012, compared to the 3,374 that were reported. Even accounting for the spike in 2013, reports are still just a fraction of the actual crimes committed, meaning congressional work is on the horizon in 2014 concerning MST. And more likely than not, more veterans will need DAV’s services.