Tags: War on Terrorism | female | veterans | sexual | trauma

Pentagon Alters Rules for Female Vets With Rape-Related PTSD

By    |   Friday, 26 Dec 2014 03:13 PM

The Department of Veterans Affairs is implementing extensive changes in the way it handles claims for benefits from female veterans who are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by military sexual trauma (MST), while female veteran activists are saying it's about time but not enough.

For years, female veterans who were sexually assaulted in the military found their access to VA benefits blocked by a lack of evidence of those assaults, brought about by a culture inside the military that discouraged filing of reports and even discharged female military members with "mental health issues" if they insisted on pursuing charges against their rapists, The Washington Post reports.

A recent VA survey found that one out of four women were victimized by sexual harassment or assault while serving. Given that the military's fastest-growing population is female, with 2.2 million, or 10 percent, of veterans female, and 280,000 returned from action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the size of the problem is formidable and in need of fixing, the Post reported.

While compensation claims can take decades to be settled, the Defense Department, until recently, allowed the destruction of rape kits after one year and sexual assault reports after two years, meaning that hard evidence of sexual assault often was not available when female veterans filed claims, the Post reports.

Mother Jones noted, "An estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the military in 2012, the last year that statistic is available; only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and just one in 10 of those cases went to trial."

However, things are changing, and some women are beginning to see their benefits approved. June Atwood-Bell, raped in 1981, just received her approval for compensation from the VA. However, after 20 years, she told the Post, "My fight is not over. It’s not done for so many other women out there. I want to help them to get what we are entitled to."

VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the Post, "VA simply must be an organization that provides comprehensive care for all veterans dealing with the effects of military sexual trauma. Our range of services for MST-related experiences are constantly being re-examined to best meet the needs of our veterans."

Last year, the House passed the Ruth Moore Act, introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, which allows acceptance of an MST diagnosis "notwithstanding the fact that there is no official record of such incurrence or aggravation in such service, and to resolve every reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran." \

The bill is pending in the Senate, Pingree said.

"The victims were blamed, the crime was covered up, and the survivors themselves became the subject of further harassment and recrimination. And too often, what followed was years of mental health issues, lost jobs, substance abuse and homelessness. These stories don’t have to end this way."

The Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) and Vietnam Veterans of America have sued the VA, claiming the VA requires a higher burden of proof from those claiming to have PTSD because of MST.

"It’s just a broken policy," Anu Bhagwati, SWAN executive director and former Marine captain, told the Post. "Veterans experience betrayal from the sexual assault, from the way they are treated by their units after the assault, and then by the VA when they file claims."

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is implementing extensive changes in the way it handles claims for benefits from female veterans who are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by military sexual trauma (MST), while female veteran activists are saying it's . . .
female, veterans, sexual, trauma
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2014-13-26
Friday, 26 Dec 2014 03:13 PM
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