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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Veterans Wanted to Improve Understanding of Military Sexual Trauma

December 27, 2012

Researchers at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) are currently looking for Veterans from any era to participate in a voluntary, confidential, research study to help VA better understand the implications of military sexual trauma (MST).

This study surveys both men and women Veterans to help health care providers better understand the range of unwanted sexual experiences that sometimes occur during military service. For some Veterans, these experiences lead to immediate or delayed coping problems and can have a significant impact on overall health.

“Our goal is to gain a better understanding of these types of experiences in order to help researchers develop better treatment approaches,” said Deleene S. Menefee, Ph.D., a psychologist in the Mental Health Care Line and an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

MST refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred during military service. It includes any sexual activity against someone’s will. The individual may have been pressured into sexual activities, unable to consent, or physically forced. MST also includes unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities; and/or threatening or unwelcome sexual advances.

“We started this study because there is a need to take a serious look at where military sexual trauma occurs or the extent of the problem,” said Menefee.

Veterans react in a wide variety of ways to experiencing MST. Problems may not surface until months or years later; and sometimes, not until after a Veteran has left military service. For some individuals, MST may continue to affect their mental and physical health, work, relationships, and everyday lives even many years later. In fact, military sexual assault is more likely to result in symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder than other types of trauma, including combat.

“Another purpose of this study is to determine why Veterans chose not to report these unwanted sexual experiences,” said Emily Voelkel, a psychology extern in the Mental Health Care Line.

Recognizing many people do not openly disclose painful experiences, VA health care providers ask every Veteran if they have been recipients of uninvited sexual attention or victims of assault. Current VA data reveals about one in five women and one in 100 men experience unwanted sexual experiences while serving in the military.

This research study is being conducted at the MEDVAMC and Baylor College of Medicine. Participating Veterans will be asked to complete a 45-minute survey in a private area. All responses are completely confidential. Participation has no impact on current or future VA health care or disability, and no research-related responses are put into Veterans’ medical files. For more information about this MST study, call 713-791-1414, ext. 6754 or ext. 6419. All calls are completely confidential.

Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST at the MEDVAMC.  MST-related care is available even if a Veteran is not eligible for other VA services. For more information, call 713-791-1414, ext. 6881.