Study Reports High Prevalence of Military Sexual Trauma Among Recent Veterans

Shannon K. Barth MPH Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public Health, Post Deployment Health Epidemiology Program Washington, District of Interview with:
Shannon K. Barth MPH
Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of Public Health, Post Deployment Health
Epidemiology Program
Washington, District of Columbia

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Response: This study used data from the “National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans,” a population-based health study of 20,563 Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans and their non-deployed counterparts, conducted in 2009-2011.  A two-question measure of sexual harassment and sexual assault based on an existing clinical screen used by Veterans Health Administration (VHA) providers was included on the survey. Consistent with use in clinical settings, a veteran was considered to have experienced MST if they responded affirmatively to either of the two questions. While estimates of the prevalence of MST based on the clinical screener are available, these estimates only provide information about veterans who use VHA services and may not generalize to the broader OEF/OIF veteran population. This new survey provides a unique opportunity to assess MST experiences among a representative sample of OEF/OIF veterans in a confidential setting. Additionally, we were able to assess responses to the sexual harassment and sexual assault questions separately and collectively.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Response: The main findings from our study are that 41% of women and 4% of men reported experiencing MST. Veterans who reported using VHA services had a higher risk of MST compared to those who didn’t receive VHA services. The relationship between deployment to OEF/OIF and experiencing MST differed between men and women. Combat-exposed veterans had greater risk of reporting MST compared to those not exposed to combat, while controlling for deployment status.

Among women, approximately 10% reported experiencing sexual assault. In contrast, 0.5% of male participants reported experiencing sexual assault.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Veterans who have experienced MST should know that VA offers a wide range of treatment services (including outpatient, inpatient, and pharmaceutical care) for physical and mental health conditions related to experiences of MST, and all MST-related treatment is provided free of charge. The prevalence of veterans experiencing MST among those who do not use the VA health care system is remarkable (37.2% among women and 3.5% among men) and VA should work on engaging these veterans and encouraging them to come to the VA health care system for specialized care. Service connection is not required, and Veterans may be able to receive free Military Sexual Trauma (MST)-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA services. Every VA health care system provides care for conditions related to Military Sexual Trauma and, all VA mental health and primary care providers are required to complete a mandatory training on Military Sexual Trauma. For more information, Veterans can contact the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at their nearest VA health care system, or contact their local Vet Center.  A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found at and Veterans can also learn more about VA’s MST-related services online at and see video clips with the recovery stories of Veterans who have experienced MST at

It’s important for non-VA clinicians to be aware of the high prevalence of Military Sexual Trauma among recent veterans, screen for these experiences, and be aware of potential related mental and physical health conditions.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: More research is needed on the health effects of Military Sexual Trauma in the context of extended or multiple deployments, adverse deployment conditions, and the interactive effects of combat trauma with sexual trauma. Additionally, more research is needed on military-related environmental risk factors for Military Sexual Trauma, to better understand the different risk factors for Military Sexual Trauma observed among the various branches of service.


Am J Prev Med. 2015 Jul 29. pii: S0749-3797(15)00318-9. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.06.012. [Epub ahead of print]

Military Sexual Trauma Among Recent Veterans: Correlates of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.

Barth SK1, Kimerling RE2, Pavao J2, McCutcheon SJ3, Batten SV4, Dursa E5, Peterson MR5, Schneiderman AI5.

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Last Updated on September 1, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD