As we have mentioned, many of our team members have all gone through the claims process with the Veterans Administration. We understand that this is a long and drawn out process, and we want to share some advice from our combined experience with you.
If you have never filed a claim, but are experiencing symptoms from your trauma, you are entitled to free medical and mental health care for these symptoms, even if you are not service connected and regardless of the character of your discharge. You can get help from your local VA facility by walking in, identifying yourself as an MST SURVIVOR, and telling them that you need help. You can also call the main line and ask for the MST coordinator OR patient advocate to help you or meet you at the door. If you do not have a local VA Facility, you can reach out to The Vet Center in your state and ask for help. In either case, they will more than likely encourage you to file a claim.
New, (never previously filed) Disability Claims:
First, if you have never filed a claim with the Veterans Administration, know that you have two options. The first is that you can do this yourself, or the second is that you can seek the assistance of a trained and qualified Service Representative from one of many fine veteran service organizations (American Legion, DAV, VFW, PVA) that exist. In either case, we recommend that you gather your available records and write your experiences down in a notebook, as this will help you remember critical details when you need to fill out forms or undergo treatment.
You will need to download the Form 21-0781a to prepare your claim. This form is specific to Military Sexual Assault and is critical. Not every service officer knows to use it. If it is not included, your claim could be denied, delayed for several years, or adjudicated at a lesser amount than you might be otherwise qualified to receive.
Also, you must remember that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims originating from MST can not be developed or submitted under the fully developed claims (FDC) process like regular PTSD claims can be submitted. This process is not allowed in the VA guidelines, as MST Claims are subjective and a NEXUS (service connection to the actual assault) must be clearly identified in order to be rated.
If you choose to file your claim yourself, Mrs. Susan Avila-Smith (the founder of Vetwow.com and a Marine) has prepared an excellent resource that we have included below. She has personally helped or filed and won over 5000 claims for MST SURVIVORS; and she has never lost as claim.
HOW TO FILE A VA CLAIM FOR MST by Susan Avila-Smith
You will need a Diagnosis, Nexus, and Evidence. It is this simple. You do not need stacks of paperwork.
1. A Diagnosis of PTSD, Anxiety and/or Depression, from your Provider and documented in your treatment record. (Filing for "MST" will not work.)
2. A Nexus (Service Connection) which needs to be written by your provider as a letter or directly in your medical chart, just like this: "After reviewing ___________'s medical records it is my opinion, more likely than not, her/his PTSD, Depression/Anxiety (PTSD, Anxiety/Depression - whatever it specifically is you filed for in your claim and must match exactly) is a direct result of military sexual trauma s/he experienced while serving on active duty."
3. Evidence (a police report, hospital exam, etc. Do not be surprised if this has been sanitized from your military records) or Alternative Evidence VA form 21-0781a. This is used as "Alternative Evidence" and you need to explain *EACH ONE* of the "markers" they have on page 3. Make additional copies of Page 2 and write up one marker per page. If you did not have one of these markers, then state it specifically: "I did not use over the counter medications, because I had prescription medications for anxiety." If you did have one of these markers, then state specifically: "I broke up with my boyfriend of 7 years after the assault.
4. A copy of anything showing you had problems in the military, such as being AWOL, ARTICLE 15 or a letter from someone who knew you at the time or before and after you served in the military and can attest to the major behavior changes you have shown. Everything should state "I swear this is accurate and true to the best of my ability."
Filling Out the 21-0781a:
Page One Just fill in Description of the Incident as "sexual assault" or "personal assault" by a known person - STATE THEIR NAME, THEIR UNIT INFORMATION and if they were punished and how. If you do not know who it was, state that.
Example: "On or about July 12, 1986, I was assaulted by John Doe, a corporal who was assigned to HOC 733rd MI Bn, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii - the same unit I was assigned to." ***IF you cannot remember the date, narrow it down to a three month time frame - a season, holiday, or event like the Presidential Elections. (This is used to cross check the paperwork and nothing else. If the paperwork is not there because the dates are wrong, then likely you will not win, so the date range is crucial.)
So the main thing is that you DO NOT need to find your Military paperwork; the medical records and personnel files are automatic. The VA will look for these when you file your claim. ANYTHING ELSE you have (JAG, MP, DAILY ROSTER, ETC.) YOU WILL NEED TO REQUEST THAT THE VA GET SEPARATELY, as it is the VA's job to get any paperwork, and they can get it much more quickly than you can.
You will only need to sign a Release of Information for the VA to get these.
Page Two: Leave page two with a line through it, and N/A (Not Applicable)**.**
Seriously - do not put another incident unless you are willing to wait for a very long time. To choose which incident to file for (if there is more than one) pick the one that has any military records or medical records, no matter how small.
Page Three - The main thing is to address each of the items in #7 on the form (Page 3). If you had/did something say it, and if not, say you did not do this behavior.
IMPORTANT: Your stories, emotions, and sarcasm, no matter how compelling, are best left to your therapist, and have no place here; unless it provides information on where to find Evidence. Example: "After the assault I went to the Mayberry Police Department and they filed a report." Writing about your horrific rape situation is NOT required, so do not do it.
New, Additional Claims
If you have an existing service connected disability that is not PTSD related (I.e. Knees, shoulders, back, etc.), you will need to file a new additional claim, based on your assault and the symptoms or problems resulting from it. To do this, you follow the same process that Susan details above.
If you have an existing service connected disability that is PTSD based, and you are less than 100% Permanent and Total designated (not counting IU designations) you may file for an increase in benefits if your symptoms have gotten REMARKABLY worse over time. This is called "filing for an increase in claims based on secondary issues." If you believe that you have secondary issues from your original trauma, you only need a physician's statement (Nexus) which states exactly:
" After reviewing (person's name)'s health record and present symptoms, it is my opinion more likely than not that his / her (specific secondary symptoms) are directly related and Secondary to his / her existing diagnosis of PTSD for which s/he is service connected."
Some, but definitely not a complete list, of secondary symptoms include:
Migraines, TMJ, Bruxism, GERD (related to trauma to head and face, or reactions to stress) Sexually transmitted diseases, herpes, female reproductive disorders, hysterectomy, IBS (related to foreign or hostile bacteria / viruses from oral, anal, or vaginal penetration) Degenerative Disc Disease (related to trauma of being thrown, hit, or kicked) Joint problems (knees, shoulders, wrists, ankles) related to personal defense attempts during the assault.
INTERNITY is not a Veterans Service Organization as defined in Title 38, United States Code. Our team are not claims agents as defined in Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations. Therefore, we are unable to file claims. However, we are able to assist the veteran in reviewing an existing claim.
If you are receiveing 100% disability compensation (not inclusive of IU) and you are seeking additional benefits (in home care, etc.) or retroactive compensation, we will not be able to partner with you; however, we will help you find resources which may be more appropriate to your needs.