1 in 5 veterans' military sexual trauma claims were wrongly denied or mishandled by VA, officials say

SexualHarassment-SHARP
Photo credit U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julio Martinez Martinez
By Connecting Vets

For nearly two years, about one in five veteran military sexual trauma claims were wrongfully denied or improperly handled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, officials told Congress Wednesday.

In September 2019, VBA completed a review of about 9,700 previously-denied MST claims from Oct. 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018. Of the 9,700 the agency reviewed, about 1,900 "required additional development" so they were initially wrongly denied or improperly handled, VBA Undersecretary for Field Operations Willie Clark told Congress. 

That amounts to about one in every five MST claims during that period being wrongly denied or handled incorrectly.

Since September 2019, of the 1,900 still being worked on, Clark said VA found that about 460 deserved to be approved and have their disability percentage increased. Another 500 are still being worked on, Clark said, and about 900 claims decisions were sustained or remained denied.

Clark said VA approves thousands of claims "daily," including survivor claims.

"We do get these right in some cases," he said. "Where we get them wrong, we need to know about it. If we don't, then we discourage more people from coming to the VA."

The information was revealed in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on how VA supports military sexual trauma survivors.

In a press conference held simultaneously, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said when he took office, about 25 percent of women veterans used VA and now that number is 41 percent.

"We are leading the change in military culture," Wilkie said. 

But sexual harassment and assault are not uncommon at VA, though the agency is the leading care provider for survivors of MST. 

About one in four women veterans experience sexual harassment or assault at VA facilities. Generally, women veterans are about seven times more likely to experience military sexual trauma than men. 

Assault and harassment have also been linked to deaths by suicide and homelessness among women veterans. 

Women veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than non-veteran women. MST survivors face nearly twice the risk of homelessness. 

A history of military sexual trauma is "common" among older women veterans, a VA study shows. 

This story will update.

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For confidential help with sexual assault 24/7, call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 800-656-4673 or go to online.rainn.org.
Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett
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