After Sexual Trauma, Soldiers Search For Better Care, Peace

Caitlin Cruz and Asha Anchan | Kaiser Health News | October 30, 2013

At least one in five female veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has screened positive for military sexual trauma (MST) once back home, Department of Veterans Affairs records show. And this may understate the crisis, experts say, because this number only counts women who go to the VA for help.

Young female veterans -- those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- often don’t show up for their first VA appointments, if they show up at all, said Ann LeFevre, MST coordinator at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. "They think they're alone and they don't want to talk about it," LeFevre said. "Especially with new returners, it takes a lot to get them on the VA campus. It can remind them of their base where the assault occurred."

The assault itself defies the discipline and values of the armed forces, but the problem is exacerbated, experts say, when victims report an assault and their allegations are met with skepticism and possible retaliation.

Even after their military service is over, many sexual assault victims are reluctant to approach the VA, a system intertwined with the military and perceived at times as prescribing drugs instead of meeting their treatment needs.