Women senators introduce bill to help veterans who experience domestic or sexual violence

About a third of women veterans experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, VA says.

Abbie Bennett
November 25, 2019 - 11:33 am

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julio Martinez Martinez

Two women senators introduced a bill to provide improved services and benefits to veterans who experience domestic or intimate partner violence or sexual assault. 

Senators Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the bipartisan bill to "help ensure no veteran attempting to leave an abusive situation is turned away for assistance due to lack of resources," the senators said in a news release Nov. 21. 

About a third of women veterans experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Defense Department's most recent report on sexual assault in the military showed a 50-percent increase in assaults against women service members since 2016. 

The Supporting Veteran Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Act would connect veterans exposed to domestic or sexual violence with VA resources and improve coordination between VA and local domestic violence and sexual assault crisis centers. Shaheen previously introduced similar legislation during the 114th Congress, 2015-17. 

Veterans are eligible for multiple benefits that could help a family escape an abusive situation, including housing assistance, disability payments, medical care (including for some dependents), mental health services and other support. But veterans may not be aware of all the benefits available to them, McSally and Shaheen said.

“Domestic and sexual violence is a persistent problem in our society, and it’s particularly pervasive among our military and veteran populations. It threatens the health, safety and well-being of women and their families, and it demands action from Congress. Help should never be out of reach for survivors when they need it,” Shaheen said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill would improve coordination between the VA and help ensure our rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters have the resources they need to provide a safe haven to all those seeking assistance."

“Domestic and sexual violence has no place in our society or in our military. I fought to have several provisions from my bill to combat military sexual assault incorporated into the annual defense bill, but we must take a holistic view of how we solve this issue,” McSally said. “Congress must do more to support our servicemen and women as they overcome trauma and seek support and safety outside of their homes."

The bill would: 

  • Direct the VA to establish a program to coordinate with local domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence service providers;
  • Establish local outreach coordinators at VA hospitals to serve as liaisons for these specific issues;
  • Codify a currently informal VA task force on domestic violence and direct the task force to create a national program to address prevention, response and treatment of these types of violence;
  • Direct the task force to study and report on the feasibility of ways to improve VA services for victims, including expedited review of temporary housing and other assistance requests, provide more direct services (especially in rural areas) and support counseling services;
  • Direct VA to complete a national baseline study on how prevalent domestic violence is among veterans, and its causes;
  • Require the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans to conduct an assessment of the effects of intimate partner violence on women vets. 

McSally and Shaheen's bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. If it is approved out of that committee, it heads to the Senate floor for a vote, then the House and on to the president. 

In September, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y. introduced a similar bill in the House, requiring the VA to improve services and benefits for veterans who experience domestic violence or sexual assault. 

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett

Major women veterans’ care bill passes House, heads to Senate. Here's what's in it.