VA discriminates against victims of military sexual trauma: ACLU

[JURIST] The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) [official website] grants disability claims for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by in-service sexual trauma at significantly lower rates than it has granted claims for PTSD arising from other causes, says a report [PDF] released on Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. According to the report, between the years of 2008 to 2012, the grant rate for military sexual trauma by the VA has lagged behind the grant rate for other PTSD claims by 16.5 to 29.6 percentage points every year. While the VA has adopted regulations to ease the burden of proof for veterans with PTSD resulting from such things as combat, POW status, and fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, victims of sexual trauma have a higher threshold of proof. Specifically, lay testimony is often insufficient, and veterans must also present corroborating evidence in order to prove the occurrence of trauma. Over the span of this time period, 15,862 veterans filed VA disability benefit claims for PTSD as a result of military sexual trauma.

Sexual assault in the US military has recently come under intense scrutiny from journalists and politicians. According to the US Department of Defense [official website], there were 3,553 sexual assault complaints [Guardian report] from October 2012 to June 2013, compared to 2,434 during the same period last year, marking a 46 percent increase. It remains unclear whether that increase marks a rise in sexual assaults or just in the percentage of incidents being reported. In May Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) [HR 2016; text], which seeks to reform the procedures for courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Of the proposed changes, Gillibrand and her opponents have focused debate on removing the determination of whether to try charges outside the chain of command of the member subject to such charges. Since its introduction in May the MJIA has been stalled in committee [GovTrack.us report].

 

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