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Compensation and Pension Exams for Military Sexual Trauma-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Examiner Perspectives, Clinical Impacts on Veterans, and Strategies.

Webermann AR, Nester MS, Gianoli MO, Black AC, Rosen MI, Mattocks KM, Portnoy GA. Compensation and Pension Exams for Military Sexual Trauma-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Examiner Perspectives, Clinical Impacts on Veterans, and Strategies. Women's health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. 2023 Mar 30.

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BACKGROUND: It is estimated that in one in three women veterans experience military sexual trauma (MST), which is strongly associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2018 report indicated the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) processed approximately 12,000 disability claims annually for PTSD related to MST, most of which are filed by women. Part of the VBA adjudication process involves reviewing information from a Compensation and Pension (CandP) exam, a forensic diagnostic evaluation that helps determine the relationship among military service, diagnoses, and current psychosocial functioning. The quality and outcome of these exams may affect veteran well-being and use of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health care, but no work has looked at examiner perspectives of MST CandP exams and their potential clinical impacts on veteran claimants. METHODS: Thirteen clinicians ("examiners") who conduct MST CandP exams through VHA were interviewed. Data were analyzed using rapid qualitative methods. RESULTS: Examiners described MST exams as more clinically and diagnostically complex than non-MST PTSD exams. Examiners noted that assessing "markers" of MST (indication that MST occurred) could make veterans feel disbelieved; others raised concerns related to malingered PTSD symptoms. Examiners identified unique challenges for veterans who underreport MST (e.g., men and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer [LGBTQ+] veterans), and saw evaluations as a conduit to psychotherapy referrals and utilization of VHA mental health care. Last, examiners used strategies to convey respect and minimize retraumatization, including a standardized process and validating the difficulty of the process. CONCLUSIONS: Examiners'' responses offer insight into a process entered by thousands of veterans annually with PTSD. Strengthening the MST CandP process is a unique opportunity to enhance trust in the VBA claims process and increase likelihood of using VHA mental health care, especially for women veterans.

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