Support Military Sexual Trauma Survivors on Their Path Toward Healing
As Sexual Assault Awareness Month concludes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is sending a clear message to survivors of military sexual trauma (MST): "We believe you, and we believe in you." It's time to address this ongoing issue and support survivors as they navigate their path toward healing.
MST is a pervasive issue in the military, affecting individuals of all ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations. It can have long-lasting effects on a survivor's physical and mental health, work, relationships and everyday life. That's why VA is committed to providing compassionate care to survivors through a range of resources, including the Beyond MST app and free counseling and treatment at VA medical centers.
Hines VA offers flexible treatment options tailored to each MST survivor's unique needs and preferences. Eligibility for MST-related care is expansive, and no documentation of the MST experience is required. Survivors do not need to have reported the MST experience when it occurred, to have sought care within a certain time frame or to have applied for service connection to receive this care.
We understand that healing after MST can take time, and that's why we encourage survivors and their families, friends, and supporters to seek out the resources available to them.
The Beyond MST app, for example, provides information and tools to help survivors manage symptoms and connect with care. VA medical centers also offer a range of services, including counseling, support groups, and medical treatment.
As Hines VA Director, I urge everyone to learn more about MST and how they can support survivors. By visiting www.MentalHealth.va.gov/SAAM, you can find resources and materials to explore and share with others. By spreading awareness and understanding, we can help break down the stigma surrounding MST and create a supportive community for survivors.
If you or someone you know experienced MST and is interested in learning more, please contact your local VA Medical Center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator. They are trained professionals who specialize in connecting survivors with the care and services that are right for them.
VA believes in MST survivors, and we believe they can heal and thrive with your support and ours. Let's work together to support those who have sacrificed so much for our country.
One in four women and one in 100 men who receive care at VA report experiencing MST, and these numbers are believed to be underestimates due to underreporting. MST includes any sexual assault or harassment that occurs while someone is serving in the military, and it can take many forms, including unwanted touching, threats of sexual violence, or any other unwanted sexual attention.
Survivors of MST may experience a wide range of physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain. These issues can have a profound impact on their quality of life and ability to function.
Fortunately, VA is dedicated to providing the care and support that survivors of MST need to heal and recover. Through the Beyond MST app, survivors can access tools and resources to help them manage symptoms and connect with care. VA medical centers also offer a range of services, including counseling, support groups, and medical treatment.
I've worked with Veterans through VA for more than 20 years, and I am proud of the work that we are doing to support survivors of MST. However, we know that there is still much work to be done. That's why we are committed to raising awareness about MST and ensuring that survivors have access to the care and support they need.
If you or someone you know has experienced MST, I urge you to reach out for help. You are not alone, and there are people who care and want to support you on your path toward healing. The VA is here for you, and we believe in your strength and resilience. Together, we can create a community of support and healing for survivors of military sexual trauma.
*James Doelling is the hospital director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, Illinois' largest Veterans Medical Center. The hospital treats more than 44,000 Veterans from World War II through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.