The VA also said in figures released to the AP that 1 in 5 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans reported suffering sexual trauma during their service careers. The department defines military sexual trauma as “any sexual activity where you are involved against your will.”
The findings were released following the arrests of three military officers in charge of sexual assault prevention programs in May 2013, which has prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to order new training for recruiters and officers heading similar efforts. A group of lawmakers said on May 16 that they are considering introducing legislation granting civilian courts jurisdiction over sexual assault cases involving service members.
The AP also reported that 4,000 of the patients treated by the VA in 2012 applied for disability benefits. Former U.S. Air Force general Allison Hickey, benefits undersecretary for the VA, has ordered all staff members administering those claims to go through sensitivity training regarding military sexual trauma.
Veterans seeking disability benefits in cases related to sexual trauma are expected to get confirmation from the department of a link between their trauma and a diagnosed health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder. They must also submit proof that they were “assaulted or sexually harassed in a threatening manner.”
The average number of disability claims filed in trauma cases rose from 248 per month in the latter half of 2011 to 334 per month in 2012, an increase officials said was due to more accurate screening. The approval rate for those claims also improved, from 34 percent in June 2011 to about 50 percent in 2012.
“We do a lot more awareness,” Edna MacDonald, head of the department regional office in Nashville, Tennessee told the AP. “As we educate everyone on the potential benefits and that it’s okay to come forward, I think you see an increase in reporting.”
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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