Military Sexual Trauma: A Current Analysis of Disability Claims Adjudication under Veterans Benefits Law

By Drake, Angela K.; Burgess-Mundwiller, Charlotte R. | Missouri Law Review, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Military Sexual Trauma: A Current Analysis of Disability Claims Adjudication under Veterans Benefits Law


Drake, Angela K., Burgess-Mundwiller, Charlotte R., Missouri Law Review


TABLE OF CONTENTS  ABSTRACT                                               661   I. INTRODUCTION                                      663  II. BACKGROUND                                        664      A. Military Sexual Trauma Defined                 664      B. Servicewomen and Military Sexual Trauma        664      C. Servicemen and Military Sexual Trauma          665      D. LGBTQ+ Servicemembers and Military             666         Sexual Trauma      E. Military Locations with the Highest Risk of    667         Military Sexual Trauma III. VA's RATING PROCESS                               668      A. The Presumption of Soundness                   671      B. VA Clinician Training                          673         1. The 2018 Directive                          673         2. The Disability Examiners Training           674            Module      C. Requirements under 38 C.F.R. [section] 3.304   677      D. Personal Trauma Requirements under the         680         Adjudication Manual      E. The 2018 OIG Report                            683  IV. ANALYSIS                                          685      A. The General Rating Formula Applicable          685         to Mental Health Claims      B. Common Symptoms of MST and Their               686         Relationship to the Formula      C. MST-Related Disabilities May Include Both      688         Mental Health and Physical Disabilities         1. Mental Health Diagnoses                     690            a. PTSD Diagnosis and the Requirements      690               under DSM-5            b. Requirements for Chronic Adjustment      691               Disorder under DSM-             c. Comorbidity                             691                i. Major Depressive Disorder            692               ii. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder        693            d. substance use Disorder                   694         2. Disabilities other than Mental Health       695            Diagnoses Arising from Military Sexual            Trauma      D. Special Monthly Compensation                   696  VI. CONCLUSION                                        698 APPENDIX A                                             699 APPENDIX B                                             701 APPENDIX C                                             704 

I. INTRODUCTION

In recent years, the Department of Veteran Affairs ("VA") improved its policies concerning Military Sexual Trauma ("MST") by leaps and bounds; however, room remains for improvement. The spread of the "Me Too" movement helped reduce the stigma surrounding sexual trauma and increased calls for accountability and support. However, the era of "don't ask, don't tell" sustained a mindset of ignorance in several aspects of the military, not just sexual orientation. (1) Many victims of MST experienced total dismissal of their trauma or were too afraid to tell their story. The repercussions of this mentality are severe: silence affects the victims both mentally and legally. (2) MST can cause a wide array of symptoms, including difficulties in maintaining relationships with others and experiencing suicidal thoughts. Legal recourse is also more difficult when the victim did not report the assault or receive contemporaneous treatment. (3)

Dealing with MST is difficult and different for every veteran but getting the disability compensation contemplated by law should not be. (4) This Article discusses the statistics surrounding MST victims, common symptomatology, current and past hurdles victims have faced, and arguments advocates should consider so that veterans receive the full extent of the compensation they deserve. This Article further analyzes whether the rating system that the VA uses to compensate veterans for MST properly takes into account the various aspects of MST symptomatology. This rating system is used for all mental health claims, from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") to schizophrenia, arising from any number of situations--from combat incidents to MST. …

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