We were distraught and disheartened – but sadly, not surprised – by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General report released Tuesday, which found that nearly half of the denied claims related to military sexual trauma were denied due to improper processing.
Wrongly denying services for MST is life-threatening. It is hard enough for a survivor to trust someone enough to disclose their experience in the first place – let alone go through this challenging process of applying for benefits only to be turned away.
The procedures in question, as the OIG noted, were put in place specifically to give veterans every opportunity to prove their claims, and were informed by an awareness that “it is often difficult for a victim to report or document the event when it occurs.” Failure to follow these procedures, coupled with the damage caused by MST, can have a devastating impact on a veteran’s ability to integrate into civilian society. MST is associated with higher rates of depression, PTSD, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Already, 5 of 10 veterans don’t access needed resources because of perceptions of barriers to care.
While we are deeply troubled by findings in this report, they only strengthen our commitment to our work to change the system by training the military, healthcare providers, and civilian organizations about MST.
The OIG made six recommendations, including reviewing all denied MST-related claims since the beginning of FY 2017, and those where staff did not take all required steps, and taking corrective action; directing MST-related claims to a specialized group of claims processors; and making improvements to oversight and training on the processing of MST-related claims.
As longtime advocates for MST survivors, we stand with those who have been denied services, and stand ready to support the Veterans Administration in making changes and training staff to better support survivors.
When veterans return from service having endured sexual trauma, they shouldn’t have to come home and fight for services.
Here are links to the report and some news coverage: