15 Percent of Veterans Suffer Sexual Trauma

New research from the Veterans Administration finds that roughly 15 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans seeking treatment from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department have suffered sexual trauma ranging from harassment to rape.

These veterans were 1.5 times more likely than other veterans to need mental health services, the VA researchers wrote in their report.

"We are, in fact, detecting men and women who seem to have a significant need for mental health services," said Rachel Kimerling of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, in an interview with Reuters.

Most affected veterans were women, with more than one in seven of those seeking health services also reporting sexual trauma. Slightly less than 1 percent of male veterans seeking medical care reported military sexual trauma.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Public Health Association in San Diego.

The term "military sexual trauma" includes everything from outright rape to coerced sex or threatening and unwelcome sexual advances, Kimerling said, adding that for her purposes it was not necessary to determine what kind of sexual trauma occurred. The study did examine when such events occurred, and did not include active-duty military since VA services are only available to discharged veterans.

"If you think about military service where you are living and working so closely with the same people, that even if it is not sexual assault ... it is possible that severe sexual harassment is just as traumatic," she said.

A VA spokeswoman said about 40 percent of all discharged veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought some form of medical care from the VA.

The agency has a universal screening program for military sexual trauma.

"There are dedicated health care services for military sexual trauma at every VA facility across the nation," she said, adding that many veterans may be unaware that they can be helped.

Kimerling said sexual trauma could sometimes lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We know there are effective, evidence-based treatments for them that are used in VA," she said.

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