Thousands of women and men have reported sexual misconduct within the ranks of the U.S. military, but survivors say the #MeToo movement left them behind.
Several of those survivors who are receiving treatment and care for military sexual trauma (MST) told FOX 13 news strikingly similar stories.
One survivor said she was attacked multiple times during her service, sending her into a state of depression.
“[I was] hurting myself, dressing like a bum so that people wouldn’t notice me, not bathing so people wouldn’t want to be around me,” she said.
According to a VA outreach video, “about 1 in 4 women who use VA care have experienced MST."
The video also says "almost half of all veterans in VA care who experienced MST are men.”
Pentagon records show more than 6,000 reports of sexual assaults a year, while countless others go unreported. Of those who do speak up, 58-percent say they faced some form of retaliation.
"I had one guy who was in the airborne who was sexually assaulted,” said Ezell Harris, an MST survivor who helps others who have been assaulted or raped. “He was told, 'Because you're a jumper, if you even mention anything about that, I know the person who prepares the parachutes. We can make an accident happen.'”
Harris said many others do not report rapes because they are too ashamed.
"I was lying in bed and the other service members tried to jump on top of me. To say you were raped, it does something to your manhood," he said. “I still haven’t told really any members of my family. I've got eight siblings… It's much easier to talk someone you don't know than someone who is close to you.”
A survey of servicewomen and veterans listed sexual assault as the leading factor in struggles with mental health. Meanwhile, an effort to pass a bi-partisan plan to crack down on sexual abuse in the military has stalled in U.S. Congress.
That plan would allow military prosecutors to lead sex crime investigations instead of the commanders. The Pentagon has opposed it on grounds that it would compromise the chain of command.
The VA provides support for survivors, and military leaders say they are making progress in breaking the epidemic of assaults.
Part of that progress includes the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which is meant to enforce sexual assault policies and give service members a place to report sexual assault and rape.
Department of Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Curt Cashour provided the following perspective on the VA’s response:
“Veterans do not receive disability compensation for military sexual trauma, specifically, but can be granted disability compensation for conditions that result from MST.
As of Dec 31, 2017, there were 51,374 veterans service connected and receiving benefits for an MST related disability, compared with 21,261 in 2013 and 10,062 in 2008.
In [Fiscal Year 2017], 142,750 Veterans received MST-related outpatient care from VA.
In [Fiscal Year 2013], 93,439 Veterans received MST-related outpatient care from VA.
In [Fiscal Year 2008], 54,259 Veterans received MST-related outpatient care from VA.
In terms of medical care, in Fiscal Year 2017, VA obligated $621 million in funds for military sexual trauma-related health care services.”