Progress in caring for survivors of military sexual assault
Military sexual trauma is too often exacerbated by poor care in the aftermath. While the Defense Department struggles to improve prevention and prosecution, the VA is has made strides to ensure veterans receive respect and treatment. But more work needs to be done.
This week, an unusual thing happened on Capitol Hill. Two tea party favorites in the Senate – Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky and Ted Cruz (R) of Texas – threw their support behind Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases. We’ve heard a lot in recent months about sexual harassment and assault in the United States military. But it begs the question: What about the aftermath?Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The data shows that military sexual trauma is more strongly correlated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress than either combat trauma or civilian sexual assault. Homeless veterans are disproportionately likely to have experienced military sexual trauma, or MST.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides mental and physical health care to veterans, as well as compensation for those with service-connected disabilities, which many of us associate only with war wounds. With all the controversy, many are wondering: How is VA doing in providing care and compensation to survivors of military sexual assault? After a less-than-stellar history, the VA has re-tooled and is now doing better job at identifying, compensating, and tailoring care for these veterans.
Historically, the VA did a poor job evaluating the applications of survivors who sought disability compensation for conditions related to military sexual trauma. Sexual assaults are notoriously under-reported, making it difficult for those who experienced sexual trauma in the military and later develop problems to prove they are service-connected.
Thankfully, the VA significantly changed its regulations in 2002 to expand the list of markers that could be used to document exposure to military sexual trauma. That list now includes statements from family members, requests for transfer to another military duty assignment, and deterioration in work performance. Despite those changes, analysis by SWAN (the Service Women’s Action Network) showed that between 2008-2010 only 32 percent of applicants for benefits for conditions related to military sexual trauma were granted compensation, compared to 53 percent of all other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims.
In 2011, the VA developed additional training to rectify that problem and also created “segmented lanes” that route certain claims, including those related to military sexual trauma, to processors who specialize in those areas. As a result, the VA says the rate of compensation for military sexual trauma-related PTSD is now similar to that for all other PTSD claims. In addition, the VA sent letters to all those whose military sexual trauma claims were denied in recent years inviting them to resubmit so their claims can be reexamined under the new system (a move that some lawmakers criticized as “insensitive and unhelpful”).