Military Sexual Assault Victims Barred from Essential Disability Benefits

new report by the ACLU, the Service Women’s Action Network, and the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School alleges that the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) discriminates against thousands of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors seeking mental health disability benefits.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

While the VA has a vested interest in ensuring that those seeking disability benefits have a condition caused by their time in the military, members who are seeking benefits for PTSD related to combat or other sources of trauma are taken at their word. According to the report, the VA scrutinizes claims made by sexual assault victims more intently, even when they provide the kind of documentation their counterparts are not required to.

“Under the current regulations, survivors of military sexual trauma have to provide a decent amount of documentation in order to get a compensation pension exam, as part of the benefits process,” explained Rose Carmen Goldberg, one of the authors of the report. Structural barriers to justice, like the ability of commanding officers to single-handedly vacate guilty verdicts, and a culture of skepticism, means many sexual assault victims don’t report their trauma, making providing the documentation the VA requests almost impossible.

Even though women who experience sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than their male counterparts, in 2011 the VA granted 74.2 percent of non-MST trauma claims and only 44.6 percent of MST claims. “The mental health effects of PTSD related to sexual trauma can make it very difficult if not impossible to work, so in many cases [disability benefits] will be their only source of income,” said Goldberg.

Media Resources: ACLU 11/2013; The Nation 11/11/13; Feminist News 11/7/13; Feminist News 7/25/13; The Nation 3/26/13

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