The VA dismisses too many allegations of military sexual trauma. Fort Bend congressman hopes to change that – Houston Public Media


FILE – This file photo from June 21, 2013 shows the seal affixed to the facade of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington.

More than half of all military sexual trauma claims dismissed by the benefits division of the US Department of Veterans Affairs are inappropriately dismissed, according to a report by the VA Inspector General.

A new bill from a Fort Bend County congressman aims to change that.

HR 6064, introduced by US Republican Troy Nehls of Richmond, would improve the VA disability review process for survivors of sexual trauma.

“We have to provide our soldiers with the gold standard and make sure that the exams that are done, they’re done the right way, and they’re done the right way the first time around,” Nehls said.

A 2018 report found that about half of all military sexual trauma claims denied between April 1 and September 30, 2017 were processed incorrectly according to rules set by the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The result was that the applications were rejected prematurely, which the report said “could have prevented veterans from receiving the benefits they deserved.”

The VA Inspector General’s office has made a series of recommendations to help the VBA correct many of these denied requests dating back to October 1, 2016.

But last August, the Inspector General again said the VBA did not process all claims properly and benefit administrators did not always follow recommended policies.

Nehls, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran, introduced the bill on Nov. 19 to the House Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs subcommittee with four Republicans and a Democrat co-sponsor. The bill proposes that the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine review the disability review process for survivors of military sexual trauma and make recommendations for improvement.

One-third of women and 1 in 50 men who served in the military have experienced military sexual trauma, said Dr Dericka Boykin, Houston health services researcher Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Baylor College. of Medicine.

Boykin, who works with military sexual trauma survivors, said military culture adds a level of complexity that civilian survivors of sexual trauma are unaware of.

“There are a lot of cultural factors, a lot of different values ​​in the military that make it more difficult for cases where military sexual trauma has occurred,” Boykin said.

Veterans who have suffered military sexual trauma have access to free health care for physical or mental health issues related to their military sexual trauma without having to document or prove their diagnosis of military sexual trauma. If survivors of military sexual trauma want VA disability benefits, however, they must apply and submit proof of disability.

According to the VA website, veterans whose service has resulted in a disability or worsened a current disability can apply for tax-free monthly VA payments. To receive a disability award, the VA must assess the veteran’s disability claim by at least 10%. The application process also includes a physical exam.

A common disability claim filed by survivors of military sexual trauma relates to post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA report found that 57% of refused military sexual trauma-related PTSD disability claims were denied because the claim was not processed properly.

Nehls said that because the VA is inundated with disability claims, military examinations for sexual trauma are often assigned to reviewers outside the agency. He said he wanted to make sure contractors doing the physical exams have the right qualifications and meet VA standards.

Today, VA staff who work with military sexual trauma survivors undergo specialized training to assess claims. If a military sexual trauma survivor had their claim denied before August 2018, the VA recommends reapplying for disability benefits due to the new training.

Boykin said the VA strives to be more informed about trauma at all levels. Trauma-informed care gives survivors of sexual trauma a sense of control, something they took away during their assault, she said.

“Often times, survivors feel like they are no longer in control of their bodies, or even in control of what happens to them,” Boykin said. “What I love about trauma-informed care practices is that they give them back a sense of control, and sometimes that’s all they need to start feeling more empowered. “

Regarding military sexual trauma, Nehls said veterans with military sexual trauma are just as entitled to apply for and receive disability benefits as any other disabled veteran.

“You were jumping from planes for ten years and your ankles, knees, back hurts, veterans have the option to file disability claims through the VA,” he said. he declared. “Military sexual trauma is no different. “

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