Thanks to the #MeToo movement, American society has become much more comfortable talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault. The U.S. military has also taken these subjects seriously. Victims of sexual assault or harassing conduct can receive free care to deal with the fallout from this sexual trauma. In certain situations, you might also qualify for disability benefits.
Qualifying Sexual Trauma
Veterans Affair (VA) benefits are available for those who suffered sexual trauma in the military. The trauma can include repeated threatening sexual harassment or sexual assault like rape.
Apart from those requirements, VA puts few limitations on who can qualify. For example:
- You qualify for care even if you did not report the incident at the time it occurred
- You qualify regardless of your length of service
- You qualify regardless of your income
- You do not need a specific diagnosis like posttraumatic stress disorder to receive free care
- The trauma can have occurred on or off the military base
- You qualify for free care regardless of whether you were on or off duty when the trauma occurred
- You qualify whether you are a man or woman and regardless of the gender of the perpetrator
Furthermore, you do not need to disclose the identity of the perpetrator to receive this care from the VA.
Applying for Free Care
You can receive care by contacting one of the following:
- The Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at your local VA facility
- The Women Veterans Program Manager at the nearest VA facility
- Speak with your current VA doctor or health care provider
Applying for a Service-Connected Disability
The free care program is distinct from the disability benefits program. However, it is possible that you might also qualify for monthly disability benefits if you suffered military sexual trauma. Benefits are not awarded for the sexual trauma itself but for any mental or physical suffering as a result of the trauma. For example, many service members who experience sexual trauma suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Unlike the free care described above, to qualify for benefits you must have suffered trauma while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
To qualify for benefits, you will need to introduce evidence to support your claim. Direct evidence such as contemporaneous reports of the assault or harassment are certainly helpful but not required. The VA has relaxed the evidentiary standards for military sexual trauma (MST) and will look for certain markers of harassment or assault, such as:
- Tests for sexually transmitted diseases
- Pregnancy tests
- Divorce or other relationship problems
- Depression, panic attacks, or anxiety
- Work performance that declines over time
- Statements from people who know you, such as family, fellow servicemembers, and counselors
- Substance abuse problems
- Sexual dysfunction
VA introduced the relaxed evidentiary standards in December 2011, so those who had their MST claims denied prior to that point can reapply. They may also introduce additional evidence as well.
Speak with a Chicago Veterans Disability Benefits Lawyer
The VA’s focus on sexual assault and harassment in the military is welcome news to the thousands who have suffered over the years. Fortunately, help is now available. If you think you might qualify for disability benefits, or if you have been denied, the Comerford Law Office can help. Schedule your free consultation by calling 312-863-8572.