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The VA Engages in Discriminatory Practices Toward Veterans Who Have Experienced Sexual Trauma

On Wednesday, two national veterans’ advocacy groups filed a complaint against the Department of Veterans Affairs of the United States of America, alleging that the department discriminates against victims of sexual trauma in the military who are seeking disability payments from the VA.

Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Vietnam Veterans of America filed the lawsuit against the defendant (VVA). They would like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to alter the regulations that they view to be onerous regarding claims for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that are based on rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. They point to significant discrepancies between the approval rates of benefits for these claims and approval rates that are greater for other PTSD claims.

The Veterans Legal Clinic at Yale University School of Law

The plaintiffs are being represented by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic, which is responsible for filing the lawsuit in the federal court located in Washington, District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs are asking for the rules to be changed so that they are consistent with those that govern PTSD claims based on combat trauma, Prisoner of War status, and fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. These rules are less stringent than those that govern PTSD claims based on Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and they also govern situations that make it difficult to obtain evidence that can corroborate a claim.

According to Anu Bhagwati, executive director of SWAN and a former Marine Corps captain, “The VA knows the current process makes veterans who’ve been harmed by military sexual harassment and assault jump through more hoops than other PTSD claimants.” This statement was made by Bhagwati. “The VA knows the current process makes veterans who’ve been harmed by military sexual harassment and assault jump through more hoops than

The Effects That Come From Discrimination

“As a direct result of this prejudice,” she added, “survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the military are denied life-saving benefits and crucial money to maintain themselves and their families.” “This discrimination has a direct impact on the lives of survivors.”

According to what she said, “I would think that thousands and thousands of additional veterans would be filing claims based on (sexual) assault and harassment and the VA doesn’t want them to do that.” If the rules were changed, she said, “I would think that thousands and thousands of additional veterans would be filing claims based on (sexual) assault and harassment.”

The Veterans Affairs Department declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. According to a representative for the VA, the agency loosened its regulations on MST claims in the year 2002, and in the year 2011, it introduced training curriculum for claims specialists to assist them in recognizing the symptoms of PTSD that are caused by sexual trauma. According to the spokeswoman, veterans who were denied MST benefits prior to the training can submit a request to have their cases reconsidered.

Plaintiffs, however, have stated that this is not sufficient. According to Gary Jacob, the director of policy for SWAN, there are still significant discrepancies between the VA regional offices in terms of the approval of MST benefits. He stated that it was possible that their sensitivity had evolved. However, he continued, “there is no guarantee of the same possibility of being allowed unless a rule is written that is commensurate with other claims.”

According to Joya Sonnenfeldt, a student at Yale Law School who is working on the complaint, numbers that the VA presented to Congress in 2013 showed that around half of the 8,000 MST-related disability claims for PTSD were rejected. According to the restrictions that are currently in place, she stated that “many people opt not to register claims in the first place since it is so hard to substantiate them.”

Another student at Yale Law School, Daniella Rohr, stated that victims of MST had “suffered long enough.” She stated that modifications to the regulations would help make it more likely that these veterans would “receive the services that they so desperately need.”

A veteran of the Coast Guard who claims that she was sexually harassed and raped on multiple occasions

During the conference call that was held to announce the lawsuit, a Coast Guard veteran who claims that she was raped twice and sexually harassed while serving in the military more than 30 years ago stated that she still suffers from severe PTSD and that she experiences flashbacks and intrusive memories of her rapes. The Coast Guard veteran also stated that she is still a victim of sexual harassment in the military. She refused to give any identifying information.

In November of 2017, SWAN, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Connecticut collaborated on a report that demonstrated that claims for PTSD benefits based on sexual abuse experienced in the military were approved at a rate that was 16 to 30 percent lower than other PTSD claims. After filing two Freedom of Information Act cases against the VA, they were able to secure the numbers they needed.

SWAN and Vietnam Veterans of America filed an official petition with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in June 2013, requesting that the regulation that governs PTSD claims based on military sexual trauma be altered. However, the VA has not provided a response.

Jacob, a former Marine captain, stated that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “had pushed back strongly against those who all requested for this regulation to alter.”

And he said that the situation “couldn’t be any worse if it tried.” “We now know that 26,000 service members experience MST-triggered PTSD and that the majority of cases go unreported; that MST is a greater predictor of PTSD for women as combat service is for men; and that the DOD (Defense Department) destroyed records of sexual assault and sexual harassment up until last year.” “We now know that MST is a greater predictor of PTSD for women as combat service is for men.”

Jacob stated that those who had served their country and were now waiting for the VA to perform its duties were “actually dying.”

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