Military sexual trauma needs closer look

Military sexual trauma needs closer look
Denise Williams of The American Legion delivered testimony on military sexual trauma to the House subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and on Health. Craig Roberts

In written testimony submitted May 20 to Congress, Denise Williams of The American Legion informed a joint session of two House subcommittees that the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs "are lagging" in their efforts to address the worsening problem of military sexual trauma among servicemembers and veterans.

Williams, assistant director of health policy for the Legion, told the House subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and on Health that sexual assault in the U.S. military is increasing. DoD reported 2,688 sexual assaults among its ranks in fiscal 2007, and 2,908 assaults in fiscal 2008.

According to VA statistics, more than 90,000 veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma (MST) in fiscal 2008 alone (about 48,000 women and about 44,000 men).

"These numbers are alarming and The American Legion urges Congress, DoD and VA to act now to eliminate this disturbing trend," Williams told the joint session, chaired by Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y.

The American Legion is concerned that VA may be deficient in its attention to female veterans who have been sexually assaulted. A recent GAO report found that only two of nine VA medical centers visited had specialized residential treatment programs for women with MST.

"Although VA has taken steps to inform staff about their various programs offering MST treatment and counseling, this information is only available internally, and VA has not provided this information on their external Web site - where it can be easily accessed by veterans," Williams said in her written testimony.

The American Legion wants VA to do a much better job at providing veterans with information on MST treatment and counseling - and to make better use of the Legion and other veterans service organizations to get the job done.For its part, Williams told the subcommittees, The American Legion has been training its own professional service officers - located in every state - to use proper sensitivity in handling MST issues.

"These service officers can assist veterans and their families in filing a claim for benefits and gaining access to VA health care," Williams said. American Legion service officers "are trained to recognize and handle benefits issues, claims and discharge upgrades for women veterans."

The recent GAO study on VA health care, published in March, also took the organization to task over an apparent lack of uniformity in training its mental-health professionals.

"VA policy on mental-health (MH) professional training is ambiguous, and does not detail the necessary training for MH professionals who treat/counsel victims of MST or other sexual trauma," Williams noted. The American Legion wants VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to intervene in the situation and amend policy so that it clearly defines professional requirements for MH staff that treat and counsel MST patients.

In her testimony, Williams wrote that certain aspects of military culture may discourage some MST victims from reporting their assaults. Perpetrators are usually other servicemembers, according to the American Journal of Public Health, and victims often must continue to live and work with their assailants. This increases the risk for distress and subsequent victimization.

"The American Legion believes that, in order to combat this appalling issue, there needs to be more involvement from top leadership within the Department of Defense," Williams wrote.

Another problematic issue that Williams mentioned is that veterans who suffer from MST often encounter barriers when they file a claim for disability compensation through the Veterans Benefits Administration. Williams noted that veterans "are left with the burden to prove that they are eligible to receive compensation, even though they have a diagnosis of military sexual trauma from the Veterans Health Administration."

Reminding the joint session that American Legion service officers are being trained to handle MST cases with proper sensitivity, Williams wrote, "It is incumbent on all of us - DoD, VA and the veterans' advocacy community - to make sustained efforts to deal with this growing problem, or it will continue to fester."

 

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Post Commander

June 1, 2010 - 8:47am

I guess the best way to address the problem of MST is to repeal the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" regulation. Nice job Mr. President. Note the only Presidents in history to bring up this matter were Liberal Democrats. One of which was a sexual predator himself.

Susan Avila-Smith

May 28, 2010 - 12:36pm

I have been an MST advocate since 1996. We have had on-line MST groups for men and for women since 1998. I would like to connect with both of you, (and anyone else interested) so that you may participate in creating a larger group = a larger voice for men and a larger voice for MST in general. Yes, there are some counselors, yes, there are some programs but the men's programs all lack for more than what the women have. VetWow and Pack Parachute Charity believe that it is time for a National gathering of all Agencies, Advocates and survivors of MST to consolidate information and resources in order to give all MST survivors equality when accessing care and benefits. Please contact me: smith715 at comcast dot net. Susan Avila-Smith Member of American Legion post 204

84thEngineers

May 27, 2010 - 6:45pm

My Name is Jamey Michael Harding, I too am included in the Official Congressional Recored I was at the very same hearing that Ms. Williams was at. BTW just to ensure their is NO confusion, I am MALE. I too was harassed, assaulted, and raped by my Drill SSG at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. I was 17 at the time, first time away from home and scared to death just by the rigors of Basic Training, let alone having to contend with a predator. The reason all of the groups giving testimony at said hearing were female focused is because so few men come forward in even the acknolegment of the impropriety let alone file charges. There is no structure in place for male victims to be statistically followed I am working with several Senator on the Armed Services Committee and Congressmen and Congresswomen to address this. I on this memorial day wish to recognize your service and convey my somber condolences in your personal trauma. Please join my group EQUALITYUNITED on facebook.com Jamey

TSgt legionaire

May 25, 2010 - 2:32am

no offense, but you need to put your glasses on. No where did the article state all males...in fact, it showed almost a 50/50 split in male female ratio of attacks. The only thing that was gender specific was that there aren't many counselors available for women. However, I am a Victim Advocate for sexual assault. I have been trained through the DOD and am currently active duty. You can contact any nearest military installation and request help through a VA there, and they can get you the referrals you need.

mitabrat

May 24, 2010 - 3:00pm

There are male and female victims of military sexual trauma. The VA needs to provide services and address the immediate needs for this condition. The MST programs are few and far between under the VA auspices. There is a great need and VA seems to be lost in providing whats necessary to this group of service members. I have personally experience a denial for compensation and had tp provide proof evnthough I was diagnosed. I felt like I was being put on tiral instead of the perpertrator who inflicted this condition on me. Sensitivity training is a must within the VA system regarding this subject.

ru12bill

May 22, 2010 - 4:52pm

I was sexually molested in basic training at Ft. Knox, Ky, and now I am seeing a Pchy. DR. & on medications for this from Loma Linda VA BHOST, but I need to be reconized by my other fellow vets that have suffered the same thing Please Help Me if You Can Bill

imdrmarshall

October 1, 2010 - 12:48am

brother, i completely understand what you are going through. i was attacked and gang raped by 5 active duty fellow Marines, in my barracks room. i am only able to say this out loud to myself and others because of the wonderful treatment (including numerous meds) i am receiving from my doc's here at San Diego VA Medical Center. When the incident happened i was on active duty and i told my command, and every level of my COC that i told just looked at me from across their desks and told me.."that never happened, and DONT say a word to ANYONE about it. if i value my Marine Corps career". it has been about 10 years since it happened, but i didnt file my paperwork and start receiving treatment till about 3 or 4 years ago. Everyday is still a battle, mentally and physically, i dont trust anyone, and my relationship is still strained on a daily basis..but i promise there are some of us out here that understand and more importantly are listening. KEEP UR HEAD UP AND MARCH FORWARD! SEMPER FI!

Sooners61

May 21, 2010 - 5:40pm

So basically what's she's saying is that ALL males sexually abuse female serivce members, therefore that could explain why it has taken this country almost 10 years to win the war on terrorism. REALLY?

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