April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Veterans Health Administration


Healing Starts With Knowing the Facts

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), giving VA a great opportunity to share information about the impact of sexual trauma and the services VA has available for Veterans who experienced military sexual trauma (MST).

MST is the term used by VA to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment during military service. About one in five women and one in a hundred men seen in VA medical facilities report that they experienced MST.

Because MST can continue to affect a Veteran’s physical and mental health many years afterwards, it’s important for Veterans to know that recovery is possible, and that VA is ready to help.

Every year for SAAM, VA facilities across the country host events designed to raise VA staff and Veteran awareness of MST. Reflecting the power of knowledge in recovery, for SAAM 2012, VA has selected a national theme of “Military Sexual Trauma: Healing Starts with Knowing the Facts.” This theme is very timely, given that VA has recently built on its ongoing MST-related training efforts by establishing a mandatory training requirement on MST for all mental health and primary care providers.

“It’s important for Veterans to know that recovery is possible.”

While some activities hosted by VA facilities are focused on raising awareness among VA staff, other events provide the opportunity for Veteran survivors to speak up publicly about their experiences in a supportive environment.

For example, many facilities are hosting “Clothesline Projects” in which Veterans decorate T-shirts in ways that reflect their experiences of sexual trauma and recovery. Shirts are then hung side-by-side to bear witness to how their creators’ lives have been affected by MST.

In the spirit of this year’s theme, here are some facts about VA services for MST that everyone should know:

  • VA has a range of services available to meet Veterans where they are in their recovery, including outpatient, residential and inpatient treatment options.
  • All treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to experiences of MST are provided by VA free of charge.
  • Veterans do not need to have a service-connected disability and may be able to receive this free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA care.
  • Every VA health care facility has an MST Coordinator who can answer any questions Veterans might have about VA’s MST-related issues and help Veterans access VA services and programs.

For more information, Veterans can speak with their current VA health care provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA medical center, or contact their local Vet Center.

A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found online by using the VA Facility Locator or Vet Center Locator or by calling VA’s general information hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

More information is also available at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.

You can also see videos featuring the recovery stories of Veterans who have experienced MST by visiting the Make the Connection website.