VA wrongly denied benefits for the victims of the military sexual trauma: report

A Marine poses for an official portrait series for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in Quantico, Virginia.

(U. S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dana Beesley)

The Department of Veteran Affairs wrongly denied benefits to thousands of veterans who claimed that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with regard to a case of sexual abuse that took place during their military service, a new government watchdog report found.

The office of Inspector General found that almost half of the cases brought forward by veterans who claimed that they are victims of sexual abuse-related PTSD were not correctly processed by the VA staff.

According to the report released Tuesday, the VA denied 5,500 12,000 claims submitted in fiscal year 2017 by veterans who said they suffered from PTSD in connection with a case of sexual abuse, while they serve in the army. Of those claims, with 1300 were denied during a period of five months last year without due diligence by the VA.

“The review team found that the staff do not follow procedures for the processing of these claims, which may also resulted in unnecessary stress for veterans,” the report said. “[A] mental health provider reported that the veteran confused and angry when [VA] denies their claims, and this undue stress can interfere with the treatment process.”

The inspectors blame the denials on lack of education for veteran service representatives who make the decisions on the claims after the search via a veteran of the record for signs of sexual trauma.

The findings of the report, despite the VA’s implementation of the rules in 2011 that were supposed to ease requirements and afford liberal reimbursement of claims related to military sexual trauma. The rules are relaxed, because the evidence of sexual violence was difficult to find because many were not reported or the victim does not seek immediate medical care.

The IG said claims for military sexual trauma were ever treated by the VA representatives with specialized training, but that changed in 2016.

“But many [representatives] do not have the experience or expertise to handle [military sexual trauma] – related claims,” the report said.

In addition, the VA no longer requires the military sexual trauma claims will be subject to special or additional review.

In one case, a veteran told the VA she had been sexually assaulted, which resulted in a pregnancy. Her military medical records showed she gave birth to a child months after the alleged abuse. A VA medical examiner supported her story, but an employee of the service center denied her claim, because of “vague language” used by the examiner.

In other cases, veterans were denied benefits for a VA representative contacted them by phone or sent a letter with the request to provide information about their alleged sexual assault.

The IG said veterans who were denied benefits might be less likely to continue to try to obtain help from the VA.

“The review team concluded that the trauma of the adjustment, or reliving stressful events can lead to psychological damage for victims and the prevention of the pursuit of their claims,” he said.

The inspector general has asked the VA to the thousands of claims that were denied in fiscal year 2017 and correct any errors. The agency estimated would be the assessment by Dec. 30, 2019.

The IG also recommended improved training and the establishment of a specialised group that would be responsible for claims related to military sexual trauma.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang a Reporter for Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

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