Late Breaking News
Is Getting Disability Benefits Too Difficult for Military Sexual Assault Victims?
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News, September 2012
At a separate hearing in mid-July before a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey explained that VBA is working to improve the handling of these cases and that recent data shows an increase in claims awarded for MST.
“We have increased our grants a full 35% in our MST… because of the direction we did, the actions we took to make those right and to do those right,” she said.
She said officials also are contacting individuals who have had MST-related claims denied to offer a review.
“We are sending letters to everyone we’ve ever denied and saying, ‘This is what we do. We’ve got a new process. If you feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will re-accomplish it.’”
Advocates suggest that VA could do even more to help victims of sexual assault. Ruth Moore, a former servicemember who said she was raped, testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in support of a House bill that would change the burden of proof required for MST survivors to receive benefits. The bill would provide service connection for MST victims if they provide a diagnosis of PTSD and medical documentation that the PTSD was caused by a sexual assault.
Moore said she entered the military in 1987 and was raped twice by her supervisor, contracting chlamydia as a result. She said she was discharged from the military after attempting suicide but that her disability claim was dismissed before she ultimately received filing help from the Disabled American Veterans organization and was awarded a 30% compensation for depression, although her claim for PTSD was denied. After re-filing, her claim was readjudicated to 70% with Individual Unemployability.
“This process took me 23 years to resolve, and I am one of the fortunate ones. It should not be this way,” she testified.
Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ), who chaired the hearing, also said he thought reform was needed to help victims receive benefits.
“If the VA were a private company, you wouldn’t be in business very long, because you wouldn’t have very many happy customers,” he told VA officials at the hearing.
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