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Rogers County DAV helps female veterans file Military Sexual Trauma claims

Claremore Daily Progress - 7/19/2022

Jul. 19—Female veterans in Rogers County have another resource available.

Disabled American Veterans Rogers County Chapter 44 has a female Chapter Service Officer to help women file a Military Sexual Trauma claim in a safe and confidential environment.

"We have a private area in the DAV, where a girl who has been a victim of MST, can come in — they're not going to be paraded around, it's very confidential," CSO Samantha Thomas said.

An estimated 1 in 4 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans in the VA healthcare system report experiencing Military Sexual Trauma, according to the Disabled American Veterans.

MST refers to experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service.

MST can include forced or coerced sexual encounters, sexual encounters perpetrated while a person is unwilling or unable to give consent, inappropriate sexual jokes or lewd remarks, unwanted physical contact, repeated sexual advances and offers of something in exchange for sexual favors.

"You know, in the past, they don't want to go into a chapter where it's mostly male veterans — and it's nothing against those men — it's just the trauma of women not wanting to face a man to explain what happened to them," Thomas said.

Thomas said they want to help women who've suffered with MST to come and get help. Thomas will help veterans throughout the free claim process — which can take a couple months. Thomas said all a veteran will need to bring is their DD-214 form.

"Women can go to the VA and get that help at any moment," she said. "They can come to us to file the claim for compensation, which is a disability rating, and they actually will get other benefits as in financial benefits, depending on the rating that they receive."

Thomas said there's a variety of help ranging form mental health therapy and group therapy to marriage counseling and quality of life counseling.

"With MST with it being a touchy subject — a very heavy subject — it is case by case," Thomas said.

Initially a woman will come in — even without evidence or a medical record — and get the claim process started, Thomas said.

"I usually get started with the conversation, I have to sit down and kind of get to know the veteran and grasp kind of the situation before I can tell them exactly what's needed," she said.

Thomas said the VA is recognizing need for mental health therapy for women who've experienced MST.

"Right now is the VA is recognizing the trauma it is for women, when that happens and how women lock up, push it to the back, and they don't come forward — the VA is recognizing that," she said. "And so we we can file a claim with no evidence starting out."

Thomas said the perpetrator's name does not have to be included on anything.

She said she just need to know something about the incident and the timeframe of when it happened.

"It can stay private until they fill it out on the paper and send it in if they don't want me to even read it — I don't have to," she said."

Thomas said there's no statue of limitations for filing a claim for MST.

"I've had one veteran that served during the 80s and has finally come forward," she said.

Thomas said this is solely for the veteran.

"This doesn't serve justice by any means," she said

Thomas said this is for veterans to get medical and financial help.

"Veterans have this tendency to just migrate together," she said. 'We have a very common background. So even just the support of coming in and being around fellow veterans."

Chapter Commander Tommy L. Sellers said he's been aware of the problem, but never had a female Chapter Service Officer who could talk to women who've experienced military sexual trauma.

"It's time to do something about this," he said. "It's long overdue. I'll just put it that way. It's a start."

Thomas had been out of the military for a year in December when she needed help with her claim.

"I went to this chapter and fell in love with the people there," she said. "I started the volunteer work. And as soon as Tommy recognized that I was serious about it, he approached me with would you like to be the face of MST for women, and of course, I would do anything to help women that have been in situations like that."

By April 1, she was certified and has helped three veterans with their claims.

The DAV hours are from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and is located at 801 W. Dupont St.

"We will meet with any veteran at any time," Sellers said.

Anyone interested can call Thomas at (918) 510-9983 or Sellers at (918) 813-9559.


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