A Black Rose

Air Force veteran Lisa Wilken, second from left, testifies Friday before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's health panel during a hearing entitled 'Safety for Survivors: Care and Treatment for Military Sexual Trauma' in Washington. (Mike Morones / Staff)

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are failing to provide adequate mental health services to troops and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assault — a deficiency that contributes to lifelong struggles, military rape survivors told Congress on Friday.

Earlier this week, the DoD Inspector General reported that more than 10 percent of sexual assault allegations within the military are not adequately investigated.

Speaking before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s health panel, four former troops said the military and VA also fail to provide adequate, timely access to health services and counseling for sex assault victims.

“Why is PTSD related to sexual assault so long lasting? It’s because it’s not properly treated or dealt with,” said Lisa Wilken, a former airman who was raped at age 22 by a co-worker.

The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 incidents of sexual assault, ranging from unwanted sexual contact to rape, occur each year across the services. But only about 3,600 are reported, according to anonymous surveys conducted by DoD.

Many don’t file reports out of fear of reprisal, concern for military careers or because they didn’t want anyone to know, according to the surveys.

But victims also don’t seek help because they have no faith the system, according to lawmakers.

None of the speakers was ever asked about their military history or sexual assault by initial screening physicians at VA and DoD; just one had received one-on-one mental health counseling for PTSD; and all wanted to avoid getting care at VA because of the prior treatment they’d received.

“When I had appointments at VA where [the sexual assault] was not addressed or acknowledged, I felt victimized and belittled again,” said former Marine Corps Maj. Tara Johnson, who said she was assaulted by a senior officer while attending Officer Candidate School in 1994.

For men, proper treatment at VA for sexual assault-related PTSD is even more elusive, said Brian Lewis, a former sailor and victims advocate who was beaten and raped in 2000 by a male senior on the submarine tender Frank Cable.

According to Lewis, only one of VA’s 12 residential treatment programs for sexual assault-related PTSD accepts male patients.

He attended that program, at Veterans Affairs Medical Center Bay Pines, Fla., to find that group therapy often was coeducational, a situation he found uncomfortable.

And when he attended outpatient therapy at his local VA hospital, he found there were no outpatient groups for male rape victims and he was not allowed to attend the women’s group. Instead, he went to a PTSD group where he was reluctant to discuss his issues around combat veterans.

“This marginalizes male survivors by forcing them to maintain their silence about their experience,” Lewis said.

Last year, VA treated 85,474 patients for care related to sexual trauma, an increase of 11 percent over 2011.

Each VA medical center has a military sexual trauma coordinator responsible for patient oversight, said Dr. Rajiv Jain, VA assistant deputy under secretary for health for patient care services.

“VA is committed to ensuring eligible veterans have access to the counseling and care they need to recover” from military sexual trauma, Jain said.

Last year, the VA Inspector General reviewed the health records of 166 female veterans with a history of military sexual assault to determine their access and quality of care received. The IG found that more than three-quarters of patients were involved in two or more types of outpatient treatment, 72 percent received individual therapy, 67 percent were on medication and 37 percent participated in group therapy.

It also found that most of VA’s inpatient programs for sexual assault-related PTSD were underutilized.

The IG recommended VA establish a comprehensive resource list on military sexual trauma for providers and ensure that coordinators have time to fulfill their outreach roles.

According to the IG, most VA programs for military sexual assault “are a valuable resource available to serve clinically complex veterans with a history of military sexual trauma, and associated mental health and psychosocial burden,” Dr. Michael Shepherd of the VA IG office testified at the hearing.

But lawmakers said that response falls short of veterans’ expectations.

“Hearing the first panel was disconcerting, devastating. Your response to the testimony doesn’t seem that the sense of urgency is there,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif.

“I feel like we’re in two separate worlds,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind. “We just heard gut-wrenching testimony from courageous people whose lives have been ruined, and I’m frustrated because I’ve been asking questions since I’ve been here. The customer service may be going great for those who access the programs, but for tens of thousand of people, it isn’t working.”

House and Senate lawmakers of both parties continue to press the Pentagon to revamp the military justice system to remove decisions on prosecution, trial and punishment for sexual assault from the chain of command.

The House in June passed a bill sponsored by Walorski that would require the inspector general to investigate allegations of retaliation in connection with service members reporting sexual assault and to treat reports on sexual assault as communications protected by military whistleblower laws.

Veterans at the hearing said they have little hope VA will be able to provide adequate care and pressed for the department to bolster programs that would allow them to see private practitioners at VA expense.

“We need the ability to go out of VA if the services we need are not available,” Wilken said. “There are a lot of men and women who will not come to VA because of the experience they had in the military.”

By, Patricia Kime

Military sexual trauma [6] (MST) is an event, not a diagnosis. MST may cause disabling conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and sexual arousal disorder (SAD). Any veteran suffering from any one or more of these or other conditions as a result of MST can seek free treatment for the MST-related conditions at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, as well as VA Vet Centers.

Who is eligible? Veterans who have experienced MST are eligible for VA health care services specific to their MST.  Veterans with MST may have served stateside or overseas, in non-combat and/or combat assignments, during any war or peacetime era and for any length of time. “Veteran” includes Reservists and National Guard members who were activated to full-time duty status in the Armed Forces. This also includes service members who were activeduty for training (ADUTRA). You only need to state that you experienced MST to be eligible for counseling.

How much does the treatment cost? Once a Veteran asks for the care, the VA, including Vet Centers, must provide free care for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. The clinician providing care determines whether the care is MST-related or not. Veterans receiving MST-related counseling and treatment don’t need to pay inpatient, outpatient, or pharmaceutical co-payments.

How does VHA treat MST? Every VA facility has an MST Coordinator who can help you find and access VA services and programs. These include counseling and out-patient programs. VA also has special residential (live-in) or in-patient sexual trauma treatment programs. To begin treatment, find a VA medical facility near you [7] and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator. If you are uncomfortable asking for these services directly, you can:

  • ask to speak to the VHA Medical Center Women Veteran Program Manager (WVPM),
  • make an appointment with a VHA primary care or other trusted provider, or
  • go to a VA Vet Center counselor
Then you can tell your clinician in the privacy and safety of the exam room about your MST issue.

You can also bring support with you—a family member, friend or buddy—if this will help you get connected with the VA providers.

You have the right to request a provider of a specific gender to ensure you feel safe and comfortable, such as a counselor who is the opposite gender of the person who assaulted you.

All veterans are required to be screened for MST when they visit a VA facility.

Where do I find treatment? ● Medical Centers: VHA Medical Centers are hubs for VHA healthcare where you can receive counseling and referrals to other services. These are also usually the sites of the medical center MST Coordinators who oversee MST treatment efforts and can be an informative resource. 

● Outpatient Clinics and Community-Based Outpatient Clinics: CBOCs offer outpatient sexual trauma counseling, care, and services. Scheduling for outpatient MST-related care should occur within 30 days, consistent with VHA performance standards of scheduling for special populations and mental health clinics. MST-related care is not subject to outpatient co-payments.

● Vet Centers: Sexual Trauma and Harassment Counseling is offered to male and female veterans, non-combat and combat with stateside and overseas assignments of all eras.  Vet Center services include individual readjustment counseling, referral for benefits assistance, group readjustment counseling, liaison with community agencies, marital and family counseling, substance abuse information and referral, job counseling and placement, sexual trauma counseling*, and community education.

*Assessment and referral for sexual trauma counseling are available at all Vet Centers [8], but on site counseling is only available at select Vet Centers across the country.

What other help can I find? Many treatment options and resources exist.  MST can happen to any male or female servicemember. There are residential and non-residential gender-specific care services and programs available.  If you qualify for an in-patient or residential program that is not close to home, the VA is required to provide travel assistance. Veterans who experience MST can gain some closure and validation through filing a well-prepared MST disability claim. Our How to File a Well-Prepared MST claim [9] guide gives a step-by-step guide to filing a successful MST service-connection claim. Continue to MST Resources for  Women [10]  for information on female-specific treatment and support.


Military Sexual Trauma (MST) The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines military sexual trauma (MST) [6] as sexual harassment that is threatening or physical assault of a sexual nature. This includes all traumas that occur while serving in the military. It is not limited by:

  • the location of the event,
  • the genders of the people involved, or
  • the parties’ relationship
Military sexual trauma is an event, not a diagnosis. MST may cause disabling medical conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and sexual arousal disorder (SAD).  You can base a claim for VA disability benefits [7] on these medical conditions, but not on the event itself.  The VA addresses MST differently than other issues because of its severity and complexity. 

The VA is comprised of the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA). It is important to understand this separation of VA services. The VHA is where you go for medical health care treatment. The VBA is where you go to file a claim for VA benefits.

Follow these links for help on finding treatment and filing an MST claim:

Health Care:  Getting Treatment for MST [8]

Benefits:  How to File a Well-Prepared MST Claim [9]

MST can happen to any female or male servicemember. Residential and non-residential gender-specific care services and programs are available.  If you are eligible for an in-patient or residential program that is not close to home, the VA is required to provide travel assistance.

The VA is trying to increase services for women. Continue to our Women Who Serve [10] page on MST Resources for Women [11]. It highlights services available to women for help with:

  • filing a service-connected claim, and
  • accessing healthcare
More help: 

  • Safe Helpline [12] offers confidential one-on-one 24/7 assistance for MST victims. You can go to www.safehelpline.org [12] for a live chat or to view resources. Or call 877-995-5247 from anywhere in the world. Or text your zip code or base/installation name to 55-247 inside the US (or 202-470-5546 outside the US) to get the contact information for your nearest Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC).
  • Call VA's general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.
  • MakeTheConnection.net [13]: Visit this site to view stories of veterans who have overcome military sexual trauma. MakeTheConnection.net is a one-stop resource where veterans and their families and friends can privately explore information on mental health issues, hear fellow veterans and their families share their stories of resilience, and easily find and access the support and resources they need.
  • Watch video testimonials [14] from veterans who have found ways to address the effects of military sexual trauma, and to learn more about veterans’ experiences with finding treatment and recovery.
  • After Deployment [15] provides support to service members who are healing after experiencing sexual trauma.
  • MyDuty.mil [16]: If you are an active duty service member and have been a victim of Military Sexual Assault (or know someone who has), MyDuty.mil provides information and guidance on your reporting options and rights.
March 2013

We are getting ready for our Memorial Day Campaign. We will be bringing roses for all those MST survivors that have requested to be honor with one. We need your help to make the trip happen. Please donate to our cause what ever you give will be greatly appreciated.