April 09, 2021

Lawmakers Urge the VA to Revamp its Policies and Provide Greater Support for Military Sexual Trauma Survivors

Lawmakers have called upon the VA to make significant policy changes to provide greater support for survivors of military sexual trauma (“MST”). Several lawmakers who are veterans, including Navy veteran Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Army veteran Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough requesting six specific changes. These changes include formal mental health support for veterans during the claims process; greater communication with veteran-appointed representatives; updated regulations establishing a definition of “technological abuse” to ensure access to healthcare and benefits for MST survivors; accepting responsibility for lost, destroyed or nonexistent records rather than placing the burden on the veteran; reviewing veteran statements before compensation and pension exams, rather than making the veterans repeat their trauma; and establishing trauma-informed protocols like specific language in denial letters and specific policies for contract examiners. These requests were based on feedback from MST survivors. The letter acknowledged the significant strides that have been taken by the VA, including groundbreaking research and evidence-based practices, making it a leading service provider for survivors of sexual trauma on the Health Administration side of the VA. However, as the letter pointed out, the VA has not carried those practices over to the Veterans Benefits Administration side.