Military sexual trauma, MST, refers to any experience of sexual assault or repeated, threatening secual harassment that occurred when an individual was in the military. The VA considers an experience to be MST, regardless of who the offender was, where the MST occurred, or whether the service member was on or off duty at the time. If you are unsure whether an experience you had would be considered MST, or whether you are eligible for treatment related to your experience, you may contact the VA St. Louis Health Care System Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator, Dr. Sutherland, at 314-265-5911.
According to national VA information, about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men who receive health care at VAhave experienced MST. Both men and women can experience MST, and significant numbers of men and women have sought treatment at VA for MST.
The frequency of MST experience for veterans receiving care at the VA St. Louis Health Care System spedifically is very similar to national rates. About 1 in 4 women who were asked by their provider if they had experienced MST, responded "yes". One in 100 men who were screened for MST experiences responded "yes".
MST is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as siwht other traumatic experiences, there are many reactions that Veterans cna have in response to MST. The type, severity, and length of a Veteran's difficulties will all depend on factors like whether he/she has a past history of trauma, the types of responses from others he/she received at the time of the MST, and whether the MST happened once or was repeated over time. Although the reactions men and women have to MST are similar in someways, they may also struggle with different issues. Race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and toher cultureal factorsx cna also affect the impact of MST.
Many individuals recover from MST or other trauma without professional help; others may continue to experience a low level of difficulties or have strong reactions only in certain situations. For some Veterans, the experience of MST may continue to affect their mental and physical health in significant ways, even many years later. Some of the common experiences that survivors of MST may have include: strong emotions, feelings of numbness, trouble sleeping, difficulties with attention/concentration/memory, problems with alcohol or other substances, difficulty with things that remind them of their experience, difficulties in relationships, and physical health problems.
Although posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly associated with MST, it is not the only diagnosis that can result from MST. In fact, the diagnoses most often associated with MST among users of VA health care, aside from PTSD, are depression, mood disorders, and substance use disorders.
Fortunately, people can recover from experrriences of trauma, and VA has effective services to help Veterans do this.
As noted above, individuals who have experienced trauma may develop a variety of mental health difficulties following the traumatic event, including but not limited to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Individuals who suffer from PTSD often benefit from evidence-based treatment targeting the specific symptoms related to the traumatic experience. The National Center for PTSD is considered to be the center of excellence for research and education on the prevention, understanding, and treatment of PTSD. Their website provides a wealth of information regarding available treatments for PTSD, self-help and coping, and PTSD research.
Some veterans feel uncomfortable seeking services through the VA, or are unable to seek services through VA for other reasons. In this case there are community agencies that offer support and counseling for individuals who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment. Within the St. Louis area the following agencies are available:
- East St. Louis Vet Center - 618-397-6602 or 877-927-8387
- Center for Trauma Recovery at UMSL - 314-516-6737
- Safe Connections - Main office number: 314-646-7500 / 24 hour crisis helpline: 314-531-2003 *for female clients only
- Bridgeway Sexual Assault Center - Main office number: 636-224-1202 / 24 hour crisis helpline: 877-946-6854
- YWCA St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center - Main office number: 314-726-6665 / 24 hour crisis helpline: 314-531-7273
- Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 and Press 1
The Veterans Crisis Line provides confidential, 24/7 support for veterans and their loved ones via the toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.
Click here to learn more about Veterans Crisis Hotline
- DoD Safe Helpline: 877-995-5247
DoD Safe Helpline is a crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. Through the Safe Helpline, you can “click, call or text” to receive anonymous one-on-one advice, support, and information 24/7.
Click here to learn more about DoD Safe Helpline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4619
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is operated by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). This is a confidential helpline for individuals who have experienced a sexual trauma at any time in their lives. It is also a source of support for family and friends of sexual trauma victims.
Click here to learn more about National Sexual Assault Hotline
I am a loved one of someone who has experienced Military Sexual Trauma. What resrouces can I consult to find out how to support and assist my loved one?
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National network provides helpful advice for loved ones of individuals who have experienced sexual trauma. Please refer to their webpage:http://www.rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one
The NationalCenter for PTSD website also offers several resources and fact sheets for family members of veterans coping with PTSD:http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/index.asp