The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) has worked since 1980 to ensure that the government delivers to our nation’s 22 million veterans and active duty personnel the benefits to which they are entitled. The grant from DVNF will help to support NVLSP’s Military Sexual Trauma (MST) program that provides free legal representation to veterans from all eras and in all U.S. states and territories who survived a sexual assault in service, and need help securing disability benefits for PTSD or other mental conditions related to the assault.

The Department of Defense (DOD) concedes that a large number of military personnel are victims of a sexual assault committed by another service member. DOD estimates that about 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2016.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most common mental health diagnosis related to experiencing military sexual trauma (MST). According to the Service Women’s Action Network, from 2008-10, the agency created to provide compensation for service related disabilities – the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – denied two out of every three disability claims for MST-related PTSD. Victims of MST-related PTSD who did not report the assault to military authorities can win their VA claims – if they secure an effective advocate able to take the time necessary to develop medical and lay evidence that the assault occurred.

A Vietnam Veteran Receives Justice after Suffering Silently for Decades

Mr. A served honorably in the Army from December 1967 until September 1970. He experienced a military sexual trauma (MST) in September 1968 while at Office Candidate School (OCS). Prior to enlistment, Mr. A had been in a seminary studying to be a priest and had no previous sexual experience. Unsurprisingly, he did not report the incident because of his embarrassment and humiliation, and because of the general perception in the armed services that there was no such thing as rape, and certainly no such thing as a man being raped. He did not report the MST until recently—some time in 2013.

Mr. A first filed a claim for compensation due to PTSD in 2006—at that time, he could not yet admit that he had experienced an MST and related his PTSD to other experiences in his military service. The claim was denied multiple times since 2006 and had been back and forth to the Board of Veterans Appeals. In June 2015, with the help of an attorney from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Mr. A was able to argue his case before the Board of Veterans Appeals at a Travel Board Hearing in St. Petersburg, FL. This attorney agreed to take Mr. A’s case with one month’s notice of the hearing, and donated countless hours of her time to develop a strong argument to present to the hearing officer. After the attorney’s zealous advocacy on behalf of Mr. A, he was granted service connection for his PTSD. The case was remanded to the VA Regional Office to determine the appropriate percentage for his disability.