For many trauma survivors, it can be tremendously affirming to learn that someone believes them, takes their experiences seriously and believes in their ability to heal with the right tools and support. This can be particularly true for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST). During Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April and throughout the year, VA shares this message of validation and support with all MST survivors: We believe you, and we believe in you.

What is MST?

MST, or military sexual trauma, is sexual assault or harassment that occurs during military service, whether on or off duty and on or off base. Anyone in the military can experience MST, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, branch of service, or physical size or abilities.

MST can include:

  • Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment.
  • Sexual contact or activities without your consent, including when you were asleep or intoxicated.
  • Being overpowered or physically forced to have sex.
  • Being touched or grabbed in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences.
  • Comments about your body or sexual activities that you found threatening.
  • Unwanted sexual advances that you found threatening.

MST is an experience, not a diagnosis, and it can affect survivors in a variety of ways. Although MST can be life altering, survivors are remarkably resilient. Some recover on their own. Many, however, feel the mental and physical effects for a long time, even years after.

The experience of MST may lead to depression, family and relationship challenges, work difficulties, sleep issues, anxiety, isolation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious challenges.

Healing after MST can take time. No matter how long it’s been, VA is here to help. VA offers survivors treatment for the impacts of MST to help them on their path toward healing.

VA believes in many paths to healing

At VA, those who experienced MST can find the support they need to heal physically and emotionally. Treatment is free and personalized to your needs and preferences. Eligibility for VA’s MST-related care is expansive. You may be able to receive this care even if you are not eligible for other VA services. There is no time limit on receiving care and you do not need to have documentation or to have reported an MST experience at the time it occurred to get this care.

For Veterans and former service members who have a mental health diagnosis, such as PTSD or depression, related to an experience of MST, evidence-based therapies may help. Treatment may involve addressing immediate health and safety concerns, learning more about how MST affects you, practicing strategies for coping with challenging emotions or – if you are ready to do so – talking more about your experiences of MST.

Work with your VA provider to determine the treatment that best meets your needs, values and preferences.

Resources

Every VA health care facility has an MST coordinator. The coordinator serves as a contact person to assist Veterans and former service members in accessing MST-related care. For more information about VA’s MST-related services, call your local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator.

You may also wish to explore:

  • VA’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month page, where you can learn about MST and find ways to help spread the word to survivors about VA’s free MST-related services.
  • Beyond MST, a free, private and secure mobile app with more than 30 specialized tools and other features to help MST survivors cope with challenges, manage symptoms, improve their quality of life and find hope. Users also can track their well-being and progress toward personal goals. You do not need to be in treatment to use the app. Any personal information entered in the app is not shared with anyone, including VA.

By Jessica Keith is clinical programs and practices lead for the Military Sexual Trauma Support Team, VHA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

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Published on Apr. 4, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.2 min.

Views to date: 996

17 Comments

  1. S. Wall April 27, 2022 at 11:53 am

    I was sexually harassed while active duty in the Air Force. I worked primarily in a male dominant department and received daily sexual comments. I will not repeat what was said as it is too graphic for this comment section. I was also touched in ways that I found uncomfortable. I couldn’t file complaints as my immediate supervisor was one of the worst offenders. I developed depression and anxiety after leaving the military that I am still being treated for. I never had these problems until after I was discharged. I am offended that I am not taken seriously when I bring up the subject with others, especially men. I believe the offenders should be disciplined to the point of losing their position and/or rank. I understand that sexual harassment has finally been taken seriously by the military and that women can now take the necessary steps to end this behavior.

  2. John R Caldwell April 17, 2022 at 11:26 am

    1968, roughly 2 years into the USMC. Height of the VN War buildup. I was hitchhiking back to Base. Got a ride, the ride from Hell! There was no MST knowledge back then. First, you are a Marine and assaulted; who will you tell? The guys in hooch? The Gunny who just returned from 4 years at Parris Island? Your fiance, who you are about to get married to? No! You tell no one. You wear the Rucksack of Guilt, Shame, and Anger for the next 50 years of your life. Then one day, 50 years later, when you are finally excepted into the VHA, the nurse asks if you had an MST, and you choke up, not sure what to say, but Yes comes blurting out.
    You are in the system, but now the system says, “Wait, there is no evidence,” and we do not believe your statement. Sorry, next!

  3. Claudette Scheitel April 13, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    I loved my time in the military until the sexual harassments and MST became part of my career. It ruined the time I had in the service. I got out as soon as I could after the MST. I don’t if you are male or female – being violated is horrible for everyone.

  4. Lanny Cravens April 12, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    I was diagnosed at hospital couple years after getting discharged. I was believed but still no treatment or finalized yet. 35 years waiting. Can’t imagine much longer more. I am not a lying. I can prove. I guess it was my fault. No faith No truth No trust No Happiness never

  5. Thomas Lee Vergho April 11, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    My m s t happened on my 20th birthday in pirmasens Germany it messed up my whole military career and also psychologically emotionally physically and any of the other way messed up my life and I truly dislike this time of year with my birthday coming up Thursday

  6. Jen April 8, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    MST is a horrid form of friendly fire. These are supposed to be our colleagues, equals, or superiors. Instead they torment and break trust.

    I was 18, and the rapist was supposed to be my friend. Instead, he slipped something into my drink. I woke up in pain, and have had that pain with sex for over 25 years. When I tried to report him I was told by CID that it was my word against his. I was treated like a whore and shamed when I sought medical care at the base hospital. And when I developed HPV, I was used as a learning tool for the new doctors, adding more pain and shame to the experience.

    Now, trying to navigate the care system at the VA is overwhelming. I feel stuck and lost.

  7. Romney Anne Speerschneider April 8, 2022 at 12:39 am

    It’s amazing to me that they can basically force out a female for even THINKING about talking about MST while active duty..

    oh but my ex husband (who is active duty) and all the other enlisted psychopath sickos are allowed to continue AND RETIRE WHILE drugging & raping women/men, molesting their own children (WITH VERIFIED FINDINGS BY CPS) & sexually assaulting coworkers daily without any consequence whatsoever. Nothing.

    Oh but God Forbid I say the word “rape” and I’m gone in a heartbeat. ‍♀️
    Zero integrity.
    The military’s standards are horrific.

  8. Mike April 7, 2022 at 10:53 pm

    Hazing activities that occurred 30 years ago and attempting to convince the VA these experiences happened and have caused problems is near impossible for a male serviceman. For me I was awakened late at night, stripped of my clothes, drug to a shower by 4-5 (could’ve been more) servicemen, who poured hot boot wax and edge dressing all over me, stuck me with a broom handle and more…but this isn’t MST (”just something that happens”).

    All the results of my personal experience of MST were evident and a direct result of this event, but I pressed on trying to just forget it! Yet, the VA says, why did you want so long to report? Shame, fear, and not knowing what to do while in uniform was my situation. When I did discuss it, senior SNCOs would just say, “Welcome to the unit”.

    These experiences would have a negative impact on me, throughout my 30 years of service. Where i would have flashbacks in my mind at times…causing me periods of depression, sleep problems, and problems in my marriage. Yet, talking to those in medical (and eventually the VA) about this…they seemingly just laughed it off…because I was a male.

    So, if you’re experiencing (or experienced) MST as a male, good luck. You may need to hire an attorney because the VA is only concerned about the female aspect of MST.

    • El April 8, 2022 at 12:00 pm

      I agree. Thank you. This means so much after all these years.

  9. J Lewis April 7, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    I was assaulted by my commanding 1st sergeant. I was so young and terrified that the next day I went AWOL. Its been 21 years, but i will say that thanks to President Trump I am now 100 T&P service connected. The VA here in Indiana has been so amazing. I am still dealing with the every day stresses that I have been for the past 20 plus years. My only hope now is to get my 20 years of back pay. After that incident I was wrongfully “honorably” discharged due to a Family Care Plan, but the 1st sergeant and CSM know exactly why they put me out. They were afraid I would tell. I didn’t know who to tell at the time, I just ran away. To make matters worst, the day I signed put as my “last” day was 9/11/2021 at 7:32am. Ive been living with this for all of my adult life. The counselors definitely help, but that fear and hurt of what they did to me that day and took my entire career away will never fade. The Army was my life and my escape from a hard childhood. What they did to me, made it so much worse :(

  10. Oliveart April 7, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    MST ruined my military service and crushed my confidence. Nobody wanted to hear about it. It continues in working at the VA. All the sexual harassment courses are a waste of time unless enforced.

  11. Dawn McKenzie April 5, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    My entire military career was military sexual trauma and/or some form of physical abuse. I was so happy to leave the military I didn’t know what to do. I endured & persevered the entire time, wore the mask of you will just to try & make a living. I was the subject of a vile experiment that is still a conspired cover -up!

  12. A Fitch April 5, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    Had a knife held to my throat while he groped and threatened rape. Happened in front of 4 of my navy coworkers. After I got away I told the gunny who was the ops chief. Was told to go back to work and get over it. Except it continued for 3to 4 months. He would sit on me and dry hump me while coworkers watched and listened. I fled the navy to get away. After many miserable years I went to the VA for counseling. It seemed to help for a short time. Those baby doctors that cut and paste their notes try to help. But when the military trauma was followed by work trauma I found out how little the VA truly cares. The work assault was while I was working at a VA hospital and he was a patient. When the VA counselor said “it’s a conflict” my appointments stopped and the help stopped. I finally quit my job because of the situation.
    I hope other victims, and there are so many, get the help they need and are treated better than I was at the Oklahoma City VA.

  13. Cynthia McCuan April 5, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Most older women who experienced sexual trauma were told to get over it and it was women blaming atmospheres. I certainly hope you are helping these younger ladies more than you did us.

    • D April 7, 2022 at 8:02 pm

      I agree. Mine was in 1976. Horrible. Hawaii. Lived with it for 40 years now.

      • Dorann Jones April 9, 2022 at 8:04 pm

        Mines happened in 1976 also I was 17 years old. I can still see it as clear as if it were yesterday.

  14. Carol williams April 5, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    My military supervisors comment:
    “You will no make it in the military unless you sleep with me”. You have details with me this weekend.

    “I have a place for you to sit down” , as he wipes his lips.

    “ Ha, ha, ha” as he get off the elevator after assaulting me.

    “ Sleep with me, your husband wont know hes wont believe you we are good friends “

    Unwanted butt slapped, crouch grabs and breast squeezing.

    “Are you straight “ as they stared while I change clothes (from a gay roommate and her male imperfecting girlfriend)

    What a shame from

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