Assisting soldiers in the long road of recovery is what the Department of Veterans' Affairs is all about. While the vast majority of male soldiers are traumatized by witnessing war and devastation, female soldiers have another source of major trauma to deal with: military sexual trauma, which occurs to devastating numbers of young women in every branch of the United States armed services today.
The figures for sexual harassment and assault in the military are staggering: up to 80 percent of American servicewomen have experienced sexual harassment from other members of the military, while approximately 3 in 10 have been raped by a fellow soldier. 10 percent of military servicewomen have experienced multiple sexual assaults during their service, while 5 percent have been gang raped.
Reports of sexual assault and military sexual trauma have increased significantly since reporting changes allowed victims to report assaults confidentially. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has responded to this increase by significantly expanding its training for staff regarding military sexual assault.
All clinical staff at the VA are given training about how military sexual trauma can affect veterans and the current established treatment protocols for treating PTSD caused by incidents of military sexual trauma. All patients at VA clinics who are seen for health services—even those unrelated to sexual assault—are now asked if they have ever been the victim of military sexual trauma. Those who say they have been are given information about special VA services that may be able to help them.
Because post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is the single most common ailment affecting United States soldiers, the VA has made great strides in lessening the effects of PTSD with evidence-based treatments. Today, there are several different outpatient and inpatient programs run by the VA for soldiers who are still suffering from past traumas and need a safe space to receive treatment and talk to mental health professionals.
The VA stresses in its publicity documents for these services that they are not dependent on having filed a complaint at the time of the harassment or assault. Even if a service member was harassed without reporting it to anyone, they will still be eligible for military sexual trauma treatment. What's more, with no time limits, even soldiers whose trauma took place many years ago can seek appropriate psychological and psychiatric treatment.
For women who are concerned about the presence of men at inpatient post traumatic stress disorder groups (a relatively common issue, since the huge majority of sexual violence in the U.S. military involves men assaulting women), the VA offers single sex facilities for some of its inpatient programs. Sleeping areas are separated regardless of the inpatient program a soldier enrolls in, making it possible for survivors of rape and sexual assault to rest easier.
Even veterans who would not otherwise be eligible for other types of VA services are often eligible for services relating to military sexual trauma. This is one of the many steps the military and VA are taking to help curb rape in the armed forces and treat assault survivors appropriately.