With the Pentagon’s startling estimate that 26,000 sexual assaults occurred last year, two key senators today urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up efforts to provide care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military.
The VA must ensure that sexual assault victims “receive the care and benefits needed to confront the emotional and physical consequences of this horrific experience,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.,) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a committee member, said in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The VA has taken steps to improve how it handles disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans who experienced military sexual trauma. But Sanders and Tester said more must be done as VA offers veterans whose initial claims were denied an opportunity to have their claims reviewed. The senators called the current VA review efforts “inappropriate for the task at hand given the enormity and sensitivity of this issue.”
The senators said the department failed to explain how it will do a better job processing benefit reviews for sexual assault survivors whose claims initially were denied. They cited the VA’s failure to include basic contact information for those appealing denials of disability claims. They also faulted the department for not working with veteran service organizations during the review process.
The problem of sexual assault in the military has been under a spotlight recently after the Department of Defense in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010. The Department of Defense report said only a fraction of the incidents are reported and result in prosecutions that go to trial.