VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System
MST - You're Not Alone
You are not alone in recovering from military sexual trauma
“I was violently assaulted by four unidentifiable men while working in my field hospital’s warehouse…I was isolated and persuaded to conceal the event…My trust in personal safety was lost…” Vietnam Veteran, Male MST Survivor.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is one experience many never expected to encounter when serving in the ranks of our military. Yet, one in five females and one in one-hundred males who access a Veteran Affairs (VA) medical facility report having experienced some form of military sexual trauma during their time in service. MST is a term utilized by Veteran Affairs to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced during his or her time in service (from Federal Law, Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D). Prior to the establishment of this statute in 1992, little recognition was given to this issue. Throughout the 1990s passage of several public laws brought about significant awareness and positive transformation within the Veteran Health Administration (VHA). Together with increased knowledge, these VHA Directives have resulted in a dynamic healthcare system addressing this significant public health issue that negatively impacts our service men and women.
Today, the Office of Mental Health Services (OMHS) is charged with providing oversight of all MST programing throughout the VA. The establishment of the National Military Sexual Trauma Support Team by the OMHS has allowed for system-wide promotion of best practices in the care of MST survivors. In addition, this has allowed for wide dissemination of specialized training for all primary care and mental health providers serving Veterans.
“My struggle in recovering was finding safe help and a safe place to disclose my fears and overcome them. I finally found that safe place … treatment I received empowered me to live life again.” Persian Gulf War Veteran, Female MST Survivor.
It is important to acknowledge that MST affects people differently. Some may function without difficulty while others may experience significant disruption within their lives. This may become evident through many types of issues including strong emotional reactions or emotional numbing. Others may describe sleep difficulties, problems with alcohol or drugs, relationship struggles, or physical ailments. All VA care providers have received specialized training for screening Veterans connecting them with appropriate and individualized resources. To this end, we focus on developing Veteran-centered plans of care.
Access to medical or mental health care for conditions resulting from an MST experience is not limited by typical Veteran eligibility standards.
Veterans may be eligible to receive care even if…
· They are not service connected
· Did not report the incident(s) when it occurred
· Have not submitted a disability claim to receive care
Every VA Medical Center has an MST Coordinator who serves as the point of contact for Veterans and staff to discuss questions and/or concerns about eligibility and opportunities for care. The VA has established a wide group of initiatives to support Veterans throughout their recovery. Available services may vary between facilities. A few initiatives include:
· Screening of all Veterans to strengthen awareness and increase connection
· Mandatory training for all primary care and mental health providers
· Specialized outpatient mental health services
· Vet Centers with specially trained counselors
· Specialized residential programs
· Community outreach and education
The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS) embraces national directives guiding the development of programing support for survivors of MST experiences through a wide-range of services within the outpatient medical and mental health clinics. Options include individual or group therapy, Veteran-led peer groups, medication services, educational programing and extensive case management services for various life stressors (i.e. housing, financial, and transportation concerns and many more). With the increased number of female Veterans accessing VA services, we further honor their service with the development of specialty care services for female Veterans through the establishment of the Women’s Medical Clinic and tailored mental health programming.
To promote the success of every Veteran that we have the opportunity to serve within the VA Ann Arbor, we have a growing number of community partners to further bolster our services. We recognize that a Veteran’s success is highly connected to the community of which they reside. Together, we can all support survivors and make a difference in the lives of Veterans.