It's expected that soldiers returning home from the Iraq War and Afghanistan War will be affected by their experiences related to combat and other war-related incidents. What hasn't been expected are the number of veterans that return with tales of sexual abuse and resulting trauma.

Veterans (men and women) who suffer from sexual trauma are eligible for disability compensation. The amount of compensation you receive will be determined based upon your specific experience and the disability rating that is assigned to you. 

Are sexual trauma and sexual abuse the same thing?

No. Sexual abuse is the act, and sexual trauma is the mental or physical disabilities that result from the abuse.  Many veterans continue to suffer long after the sexual misconduct occurred, often leaving them with psychological or emotional problems, and in some instances sexual dysfunction.

Veteran and soldier-related sexual trauma/abuse statistics:

-In 2006, statistics on sexual trauma in the military revealed that military personnel reported nearly 3,000 cases of alleged sexual misconduct.  

-From 2005 to 2006, reports of sexual misconduct increased by almost 25%.

-In 2006, nearly 1.8% of men serving as active-duty troopers reported incidents of unwanted sexual contact. (While this number sounds small, it translates into approximately 22,000 men, and ONLY accounts for incidents that are actually reported. Compared to women in the military, men are much less likely to report acts of sexual misconduct.) 

-More than 8% of women that experienced military sexual trauma report life-long PTSD as a result. 

-More than 50% of all acts of sexual misconduct occurred at a military base/site, or during hours of duty.

Sexual abuse that leads to debilitating trauma is not only limited to physical contact.  Incidents of sexual harassment, advancements, or verbal threats without any actual contact can also lead to debilitating trauma.  Of course, sexual misconduct that involves physical interaction accounts for the majority of soldiers and veterans who open a veterans' disability claim.  (These acts commonly include assault, rape, and any other type of unwanted physical contact that is of a sexual nature.) 

What are some signs a veteran may show if they are suffering from sexual trauma?

  • Upsetting flashbacks, nightmares, or memories of the abuse.
  • Unable to feel at ease, relaxed, or "safe."
  • Depression, guilt, inability to feel and/or feelings of "numbness."
  • New or increased drug and/or alcohol use and abuse. (Use of alcohol to detach from society and to not have to deal or cope with the sexual trauma.)
  • Isolating yourself and avoiding others.
  • Difficulty controlling emotions such as anger, sadness and/or irritation.
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much.
  • Changes in physical and mental health.
  • Inability to function sexually. 

Is there treatment for veterans who suffer from sexual trauma?
There are many programs designed to help veterans suffering from sexual trauma, but there are complications.

A common problem for veteran's that have suffered sexual trauma is the tendency to use alcohol or drugs to try and escape their memories.  As a result, many veterans will require treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as treatment for their sexual trauma.  Both problems should always be addressed at the same time so as to prevent one from causing the other to relapse.  

The most common form of treatment for veterans that have suffered sexual trauma is to undergo psychological counseling to treat for problems such as depression or PTSD.  The treatment will often take time, but can be very successful in some instances.   Other times, the problems may only be "managed" and result in permanent and long-lasting disability for the veteran requiring on-going treatment and the assistance of a veterans' disability lawyer


James R. Keller
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