As some members of Congress focus efforts on ending the spiraling incidence of sexual assaults within the military, a new report reveals that the Department of Veterans Affairs grants disability claims for military sexual assault trauma related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at significantly lower rates than claims for other causes.
"The process of obtaining VA disability benefits for the enduring mental health effects of military sexual trauma (MST) is an unfair fight in which veterans are often unsuccessful," says the report prepared by Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic. "They face a broken bureaucracy, with protracted delays and inaccurate adjudications. And based on records that VA has withheld until now, it is clear that veterans who survive in-service sexual trauma also face discrimination in seeking compensation."
The report is based on data that Veterans Affairs provided to settle two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the Yale clinic. The clinic represented the Service Women’s Action Network, ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Connecticut. The VA handed over previously unpublished data on mental health disability benefit claims filed by veterans suffering from the aftermath of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The key findings include:
Veterans Affairs granted disability benefit claims for post-traumatic stress disorder related to sexual trauma at a significantly lower rate than claims for PTSD unrelated to sex trauma every year from 2008 to 2012. The grant rate for military sexual trauma-related PTSD claims has lagged behind the grant rate for other claims by between 16.5 and 29.6 percentage points every year.
Because female veterans’ PTSD claims are more often based on military sexual trauma-related PTSD than male veterans’ claims, female veterans overall are disparately impacted by the lower grant rates for military sex trauma-related PTSD. For every year between 2008 and 2011, a gap of nearly ten percentage points separated the overall grant rate for PTSD claims brought by women and those brought by men.
Among those who file military sexual trauma-related PTSD claims, male veterans face particularly low grant rates when compared to female veterans who file MST-related PTSD claims.
Treatment of military sexual trauma-related PTSD claims varies widely from one VA regional office to another. The offices that discriminated most egregiously in 2012 include those in St. Paul, Minn.; Detroit, Mich.; and St. Louis, Mo.
"Most military sexual trauma claimants are women, so women disproportionately bear the burden of VA hostility to these claims. But men who bring military sexual trauma claims are denied at even higher rates than women," said Kathryn Mammel, a member of the Yale clinic in a statement. "Leave it to the VA to have figured out how to discriminate simultaneously against both male and female veterans."
The report is available at www.aclu.org/womens-rights/battle-benefits-va-discrimination-against-survivors-military-sexual-trauma