Congress demands actions following VA’s poor handling of sexual assault claims

Matt Saintsing
August 27, 2018 - 5:21 pm

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joe Boggio

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Federal lawmakers sent a pair of letters Monday, a week after the VA's Office of Inspector General released a report claiming 1,300 veterans were denied claims over a five-month span last year, demanding VA change how they process military sexual trauma (MST) claims and are calling for a full Congressional hearing on the matter. 

Led by Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the letters are signed by 11 and 12 members of Congress, respectfully, call for a full hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and demand VA Secretary Robert Wilkie take a dozen actions to correct the botched claims.  

 “In an environment where survivors often refuse to report sexual assaults for fear of retaliation, the VA’s apparent inability to fairly treat these claims risks, re-victimizing survivors,” they wrote to Wilkie. “You must instill confidence for survivors by immediately working to resolve these issues.”

The members are calling on Wilkie to review all denied military sexual trauma (MST) related post-traumatic stress (PTS) claims, going as far back to 2012, provide better training to veterans seeking compensation, and authorize VA officials to notify veterans of the evidence needed for claims. 

“These failures cannot accomplish anything more than dissuade veterans from filing claims for benefits and seeking needed mental health services,” the letter reads.

Another letter, sent to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), calls for a “full committee hearing as soon as possible” to address the IG report. 

“We want to ensure that it is clear that the needs of MST survivors are a priority at VA and ensure key items are immediately addressed,” the members wrote. 

They’re requesting an examination of VA’s plans to guarantee no future MST claims are wrongly denied. Additionally, they're seeking input from VA officials on how they manage MST appeals, and veterans' organization on what works best for victims in processing their claims and appeals. 

Chairman Roe's communicaiton director Tiffany Haverly told Connecting Vets "the IG has briefed the committee on its report, and the chairman has directed staff to request the Under Secretary for Benefits brief the committee on Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) implementation of the IG’s recommendations. 

She added that Roe has received Kuster's request for a hearing and "will make a decision about any appropriate next steps after we receive VBA’s briefing." 

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