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VA offers free care for veterans with sexual trauma from military service

The Greenville VA Clinic on Moye Boulevard.
Courtesy U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs
The Greenville VA Clinic on Moye Boulevard.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is highlighting resources for veterans who have experienced sexual trauma during their military service (MST).

A significant portion of veterans report experiencing MST. A third of women and 1 in 25 men report some form of military sexual trauma, or MST, while serving in the armed services. MST can encompass a wide range of experiences, including sexual harassment, assault, hazing and unwanted contact — either on or off base.

Treatment is crucial as MST can have long-lasting consequences, says Dr. Amy Street, National Director for MST at the VA.

"Survivors of the group are really remarkably resilient, but sadly for many MST survivors they will experience long-term consequences," Dr. Street said. "That can be a range of mental health challenges, physical health challenges, or show up as problems in everyday living related to work or school or relationships."

Though responses to trauma differ among people, common symptoms include PTSD, trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

The VA offers free treatment and counseling for MST at all VA medical centers. Veterans can seek help regardless of when the incident occurred or if it was reported at the time. Street acknowledges the difficulty veterans may face in discussing these experiences.

"Talking about these experiences can be very hard," she said, adding that treatment can begin at any time. "There is no wrong time to start and there is no wrong path towards healing."

The VA also has "Beyond MST," a self-help app designed to support recovery.

Street and the VA are encouraging veterans experiencing any of these challenges to reach out for help. A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found at www.va.gov and www.vetcenter.va.gov. Veterans can also learn more about the VA’s MST-related services online at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.