These frequently asked questions will help you differentiate between active duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel and veterans, and provide general information about the resources available to respond to incidents of domestic violence and military sexual assault for each of these groups.

What do we mean when we use the term military-related victims?

For purposes of the Military and Veterans Advocacy Program, BWJP defines military-related as spouses or partners of anyone who is currently in the military or is a veteran or anyone who is or has served in the military. Military includes active duty (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) or Reserve and National Guard personnel, when called to active duty for a federal mission. The victim may be an active duty, Reserve, or National Guard service member, a veteran, or a civilian spouse or partner. The term military-related refers to the people involved. It does not refer to the cause of the abuse. It is important to clarify that domestic violence in the military-related population may, or may not, be related to military experience, but the military or veteran status does affect eligibility for programs and services available to address the problem.

1. What is the structure of the Department of Defense?

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, as well as non-combat agencies such as the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the NORAD base in Colorado Springs. The Secretary of Defense is the head of DoD and a member of the President’s cabinet. Civilian control over matters other than operations is exercised through the three Service departments, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy (which includes the Marine Corps), and the Department of the Air Force. A Service secretary who is below Cabinet rank leads each Department. In wartime, DoD has authority over the Coast Guard; in peacetime, that agency is under the control of the Department of Homeland Security. Read more about the DoD.

2. What is the mission of the Department of Defense?

The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. The department's headquarters is at the Pentagon.

3. Are all of the military services subject to the same regulations and policies?

Although all of the Services report to the Secretary of Defense, who sets overall policy, they are largely distinct from each other. Each Service develops implementing policy for DoD regulations and directives. Therefore, there can be some differences in implementing regulations and policies among the Services.

4. Is the response to domestic violence and military sexual assault the same in all of the military services?

There is some standardization across the Services, but the options available to a military-related victim of domestic violence or military sexual assault will depend to a significant extent on which Service is responsible for taking action. This is due not only to the differing missions of the various Services, but also to the size of the installations, what training has been provided to the personnel, and what resources are available locally or Service-wide.

You can expect commonality in the following: entitlement for benefits, applicability of Federal law, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act, the existence of a Family Advocacy Program (though the method of service delivery may be different), the availability of victim advocacy services, and the availability of Special Victims Counsel.

There are differences among the Services and across military installations as they relate to the following: institutionalized protocols and operating procedures for responding to domestic violence and military sexual assault, provision of services to families and victims, housing policies and procedures, and types of outreach and prevention programs.

5. What is the Family Advocacy Program?

The Family Advocacy Program (FAP) is an excellent Department of Defense resource for families experiencing child abuse and domestic abuse. FAP provides prevention efforts, early identification and intervention, support for victims, and treatment for offenders. FAP is responsible for ensuring victim safety planning and bringing victim safety concerns to command and law enforcement agencies, providing support and advocacy services, as well as ensuring that offenders receive appropriate intervention and treatment services. FAP programs and services are available to active duty service members, their spouses/intimate partners, and children. Once a person is no longer on active duty, they are not eligible for FAP services unless they retired from active duty. Spouses of retired persons or the retiree (who may be the victim) are likely to receive advocacy services (safety planning) through the FAP and then receive a referral to civilian community programs for ongoing services.

6. Is there a similar program for military sexual assault?

The Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is responsible for oversight of the Department’s sexual assault policy. SAPRO works hand-in-hand with the Services and the civilian community to develop and implement innovative prevention and response programs. Each service has its own sexual assault program [Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard – Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program; Army – Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP)].

Each person covered under DoD policy who reports a sexual assault is offered the assistance of a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) or Victim Advocate who addresses safety needs, explains the reporting options, services available, and assists with navigating the military criminal justice process. SARCs and SAPR VAs offer expertise and advocate on behalf of a victim. They provide professional assistance with obtaining medical care, counseling services, legal and spiritual support, and obtaining off-base resources, if so desired.

7. What is Special Victims Counsel?

Special Victims Counsel (SVC) offices exist within the military Services to provide representation to victims throughout the justice process. Areas of legal consultation include the military justice system, the Victim Witness Assistance Program, emotional and mental health services, interactions with sexual assault response coordinators (SARCs) and victim advocates (VAs), potential collateral misconduct, and 3rd party liability. SVC attorneys can also accompany victims to military justice proceedings. Eligibility for SVC services differs across the military Services though military personnel in active duty status and their adult dependents are generally eligible.

8. How can I find the Family Advocacy Program or sexual assault program on a military installation?

Links to military installations and specific programs on the installation, including Family Advocacy Programs are available.

9. Does a victim have confidentiality when reporting domestic violence or sexual assault to the military?

The U.S. military is built upon the foundation of the commander’s “need to know” everything about the safety and well-being of military personnel and their family members in order to continually assess a service member’s fitness for duty and any potential impact on “mission readiness.” However, the Department of Defense has made a critical exception to “need to know” for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, giving each individual an option of making a “restricted” or “unrestricted” report.

Unrestricted report: This option is for victims wishing the military chain-of-command to know of an incident and to have an investigation and assessment of the case conducted by law enforcement, the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) (in the case of domestic violence or abuse), the sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) and sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate (SAPR VA) (in the case of sexual assault), the command, and others. An unrestricted report generates a series of mandated actions. For example, if a victim advocate is the first to receive an unrestricted report, she/he must report to FAP, the command, etc.

Restricted report: This option allows victims to report domestic violence or sexual assault to specific individuals within the military system, including victim advocates and health care providers. This includes FAP victim advocates and clinical social workers, SARCs, SAPR VAs, and providers in an OB/GYN clinic without these people having to report it further. There are exceptions to this policy, so it does not convey to military victims the same level of confidentiality as many civilian victims have. In addition, if the command, FAP, or SARC become aware of an incident through a source other than the restricted report, it is fully investigated as if it were an unrestricted report.

Additional information about restricted and unrestricted reporting is available.

10. Are risk factors for domestic violence and sexual assault different for military victims than they are for civilian victims?

Many of the risk factors for domestic violence are the same in both the military and civilian populations. However, there are some additional considerations for the military population. For example, the military population is concentrated in the ages at highest risk for domestic violence (20-40). Military sexual assault victims often live and work with their offenders – sometimes in a superior-subordinate work relationship. Constant mobility and geographic separation isolate victims by cutting them off from family and support systems. In addition, deployments and reunification create unique stresses for military families.

11. How can I learn more about the response to domestic violence in the Department of Defense and the military services?

Detailed information about the Department of Defense response to domestic violence can be found in BWJP resources Understanding the Military Response to Domestic Violence: Tools for Civilian Advocates (this resource is being updated) and DoD Response to Intimate Partner Violence (Module 6 of the eLearning course, Safety at Home.)

1. What is the difference between an active duty service member and someone in the Reserves or the National Guard?

The following are the most common types of military service:

Active Duty: Full-time active service in the U.S. military (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force,). This includes members of the Reserve components serving on active duty but does not include National Guard personnel serving full-time unless they are on federal active duty.

Activated Guard and Reserve: National Guard and Reserve members who have been moved from their reserve status (mobilized) into federal active duty, usually for a set period of time (six months, one year, etc.).

Drilling Reserve: Part-time military service usually consisting of one weekend a month plus two weeks a year. This includes the Army Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard and Air National Guard. When Reserve forces are mobilized for full-time federal active duty service, they serve on active duty until demobilized, at which point they revert back to drilling reserve status.

National Guard: A Reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces. The National Guard is a state militia that answers first to the governor but can be put into federal service by order of the president. When activated by the president for full-time federal service, Guard members are active duty but are not included in total strength numbers of the active duty Army/Air Force. If not on active duty status, their service obligation is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and they may be called-up for full time service by their governor, such as in the case of natural disaster relief efforts. However, the state call-up is not considered “active duty” service.

Military Reserve components are located in cities throughout the United States, while National Guard units are also located in small towns. The Reserves and National Guard are citizen soldiers that play a dual role as both professional military personnel and responsible citizens in their communities. Thus, Reserve component personnel are a vital link between the military and the American public.

Each Reserve component contributes to the total military force in different ways, spanning the spectrum from dedicated peacetime roles to wartime support alongside their active duty counterparts. Today the Guard and Reserve are integral to the planning and execution of all military operations and have been an essential element to their success.

2. What domestic violence services are available for National Guard and Reserve personnel and their families?

When Reserve and National Guard personnel activate for a federal mission, they are active duty military personnel. During that time, they are eligible for the same services as full-time active duty personnel and their families. That means they are eligible for Family Advocacy Program (FAP) services as well as other programs available on military installations. However, Reserve and Guard personnel and their families do not live on military installations and often do not even live near a military installation. Therefore, they often do not have access to these programs. When Reserve and Guard personnel are not on active duty, they are civilians eligible for all of the same services as anyone in the community.

The Reserves and National Guard do not have a FAP and do not have specific policies and protocols in place for responding to domestic violence. Incidents of domestic violence involving Reserve and Guard personnel fall under civilian law enforcement and criminal justice jurisdiction. Victims of domestic violence would need to seek services from community-based domestic violence programs in their area. Unless the incident occurs while a member is on active duty, it is unlikely the command would know that the incident occurred or would be involved.

3. What military sexual assault services are available for Reserve and National Guard?

As with FAP, Reserve and National Guard personnel have access to the same sexual assault prevention and response services while on a federal mission. When they are not on active duty, they are civilians eligible for and accessing community-based services. Some state National Guard departments have created or are developing specialized services and response to sexual assault within their units. Reviewing the individual state National Guard websites will provide the most current information on their status.

1. Who is a veteran?

For purposes on this site, a veteran is anyone who served in any branch of the United States military at any time regardless of type of discharge.

For services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the VA generally requires active military service AND discharge under conditions other than dishonorable. However, most VA benefits require at minimum a general under honorable conditions discharge. The following information presents the general rules applicable to veterans seeking VA benefits (there are often several exceptions to each of these rules). Veterans must first enroll in VA Healthcare. Generally, veterans must have:

  1. An honorable discharge (includes “General Under Honorable Conditions” discharges);
  2. Served 24 continuous months on active duty;
  3. Demonstrate financial need; and/or
  4. A service-connected disability.

More information about VA benefits and services is available.

2. Does the Department of Veterans Affairs have services for military-related domestic violence victims and offenders?

The VA does not have a program equivalent to the Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program to address domestic violence. Routine screening for domestic violence is variable across the nation's VA medical centers. While many VAs have templates that specifically ask about domestic violence victimization or perpetration, no standard practice for screening and assessment is in place. Currently, only a handful of VA medical centers have offender intervention programs.

In 2014, the VA began implementation of the DV/IPV Assistance Program which will provide an integrated approach to addressing DV/IPV among veterans, their partners, and VA employees. It will draw on the resources that address immediate concerns of involved individuals such as mental health, primary care, women’s health, and Veterans Justice Outreach staff. Additionally, the program will include wrap-around VA programs and services that address long-term and psychosocial concerns, such as housing, education and employment, and establish a network of local community partnerships.

In Phase I of the implementation process, the VA will pilot screening, assessment and intervention services for veterans who experience violence in current or former intimate relationships. Phase II will address screening, assessment and intervention services for veterans who use violence in current or former intimate relationships. The VA plans to pilot some promising intervention practices for the use of violence in intimate partner relationships and eventually implement evidence based intervention nationally.

Family members or intimate partners of veterans who are not veterans themselves are not eligible for services at VA medical centers and will not be under the new DV/IPV Assistance Program. Community-based vet centers do see family members, but personnel in these centers do not generally have specific expertise in dealing with domestic violence. Therefore, most veterans and their families experiencing domestic violence should seek help from domestic violence programs in the community where they live. Look in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet under domestic violence help, domestic violence shelters, human service organizations, or crisis intervention for their area. Also, every state has a coalition against domestic violence.

3. Does the Department of Veterans Affairs have services for veterans suffering from military sexual trauma (MST)?

At the VA, veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. They may be able to receive this MST-related care even if not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, a veteran does not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process. To learn more, visit the VA’s MST webpage.