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Filing a claim for mental health conditions other than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is a crucial step for veterans seeking assistance for a wide range of mental health issues. These conditions can include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and more. To begin this process, veterans should gather all relevant medical records, including psychiatric evaluations, treatment history, and any supporting evidence of a service connection. It's essential to provide comprehensive and honest information about how the condition affects daily life and military service. Legal professionals specializing in VA disability claims can be instrumental in ensuring that the claim is well-documented, supported by medical evidence, and presented effectively to the VA, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it's typically in the context of active duty service members and veterans—for a good reason. Dangerous and potentially traumatic situations are common occurrences in the context of military service. However, it's important to note that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not exclusive to this type of trauma. In the U.S., about eight million people experience Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Beyond Military Service

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with military service members but can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. While combat-related experiences are commonly linked to PTSD, other forms of trauma, such as sexual assault/abuse, natural disasters, accidents, or life-threatening situations, can also lead to this condition. Age, gender, or background does not exempt individuals from the possibility of developing PTSD.

In the DSM-5, PTSD is categorized under Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders, distinguishing it from its previous classification as an anxiety disorder in the DSM-IV. The diagnostic criteria outlined in the manual specify that PTSD is triggered by exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. This exposure can occur through firsthand experience, witnessing the event happening to others, or learning about it happening to close family members or friends.

The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into several clusters. Re-experiencing involves intrusive memories, distressing dreams, flashbacks, or intense psychological distress triggered by reminders of the traumatic event. Avoidance encompasses efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, feelings, or situations associated with the trauma. Negative cognitions and moods manifest as self-blame, estrangement from others, diminished interest in activities, or difficulty recalling aspects of the event. Arousal symptoms include heightened reactivity, irritability, sleep disturbances, and hypervigilance.

The duration of symptoms required for a PTSD diagnosis depends on the cluster, with a minimum duration of disturbance for more than a month, according to DSM-5. The manual no longer distinguishes between acute and chronic phases of the disorder. Regardless of the trigger, PTSD significantly affects an individual's social interactions, work capacity, and overall functioning. It is a distinct clinical condition and is not solely attributed to other medical conditions, medications, drugs, or alcohol.

For veterans seeking VA benefits related to PTSD, it is essential to understand that a diagnosis alone does not guarantee approval of their claim. Connecting PTSD to their military service is crucial. Writing a detailed statement describing the traumatic event, with as much specificity as possible, is necessary to support the claim. It is recommended to have support from a therapist or trusted individual during this process to ensure emotional well-being. Sharing the burden with someone supportive can help alleviate the isolation often associated with recalling traumatic memories. It is also important to acknowledge that it is common for individuals to have gaps in memory due to the body's stress response during traumatic events.

Receiving a PTSD diagnosis is a significant step toward seeking support and treatment. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, remember that you are not alone, and resources are available to assist you. Seeking professional help from therapists, counselors, or veterans' advocates can provide valuable guidance and support on the path to healing and managing the challenges posed by PTSD. Remember, recovery is possible, and there is hope for a brighter future beyond the impact of trauma.


Military sexual trauma, or Military Sexual Trauma (MST),

the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) refers to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a Veteran experienced during their military service. The definition used by the VA comes from Federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D). It is "psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

" Sexual harassment is further defined as "repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character."Military Sexual Trauma (MST) includes any sexual activity where a Service member is involved against their will - they may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) include:


  • Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing

  • Threatening, offensive remarks about a person's body or sexual activities

  • Threatening and unwelcome sexual advances


The identity or characteristics of the perpetrator, whether the Service member was on or off duty at the time, and whether they were on or off base at the time do not matter. If these experiences occurred while an individual was on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered by VA to be Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as with other forms of trauma, there are a variety of reactions that Veterans can have in response to Military Sexual Trauma (MST). The type, severity, and duration of a Veteran's difficulties will all vary based on factors like:


  • Whether they have a prior history of trauma

  • The types of responses from others they received at the time of the Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

  • Whether the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) happened once or was repeated over time


Although trauma can be a life-changing event, people are often remarkably resilient after experiencing trauma. Many individuals recover without professional help; others may generally function well in their life but continue to experience some level of difficulties or have strong reactions in certain situations. For some Veterans, the experience of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) may continue to affect their mental and physical health significantly, even many years later.


  • Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional responses to things; feeling angry or irritable all the time

  • Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally "flat"; difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness

  • Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares

  • Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things

  • Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or "high" to cope with memories of emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep

  • Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or "jumpy" all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences

  • Difficulties with relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures; difficulty trusting others

  • Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal problems


Although Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly associated with Military Sexual Trauma (MST), it is not the only diagnosis that can result from MST. For example, VA medical record data indicate that in addition to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the diagnoses most frequently associated with MST among users of VA health care are depression and other mood disorders and substance use disorders. For more information, Veterans can:


  • Speak with their existing VA health care provider.

  • Contact the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center.

  • Call Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247 to get confidential one-on-one help. Safe Helpline provides 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sexual assault support for the Department of Defense community.

  • Contact their local Vet Center.

  • Veterans should feel free to ask to meet with a provider of a particular gender if it would make them feel more comfortable.

  • Military Sexual Trauma Coordinators -

Advocates Note:

You must, without exception, be prepared to address the event by writing a statement describing the event in as much detail as possible. Make sure to write your account at a time when you have supportive people, such as a therapist or friend, available for you to call if you become overwhelmed. Sitting down and writing about terrible events you don't even want to think about or remember is challenging. You should call a supportive person before you sit down to write and then finish it. This can help you to feel less isolated from your memories. It is ok to say what parts of your experiences you can't remember. Most people can't remember everything about a traumatic event because the body goes into shock and processes information differently than during non-stressful times.


The VA Disability Advocates Main Office is Located in Las Vegas, NV. We Represent Veterans throughout the United States. 702-209-5722 

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