Sep 12, 2011

Justice for Women Veterans

Epidemic of sexual assualt against women in U.S. Military
The New York Times

Women in the military who are sexually assaulted or harassed face obstacles not seen in the civilian workplace. They can’t decide to take time off or quit, often have no way to avoid a predatory colleague or supervisor, and certainly in combat zones, no way to visit the human resources department. They often work in a culture that has long tolerated misogynistic behavior. And they can be further traumatized by the indifference or hostility of the bureaucracy that is supposed to help them.

Servicewomen and veterans say they often struggle unsuccessfully to obtain health care and benefits related to sexual violence they endured while in uniform. The Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group, last year sued the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act for documentation on their handling of sexual assaults. The group says the V.A.’s own data bears out the charge of unfair treatment. While the Veterans Benefits Administration approves 53 percent of all claims related to post-traumatic stress disorder, it accepts far fewer claims — only 32 percent — when the P.T.S.D. is related to sexual trauma.
Other national veterans’ groups are also urging the V.A. to make it easier for survivors of sexual trauma to qualify for benefits. Last year, the V.A. enacted this reform for veterans with P.T.S.D. related to combat: It lifted the difficult requirements for documenting specifically when and where a P.T.S.D.-linked trauma occurred, bending the benefit of the doubt in the veteran’s favor.

The V.A. could do the same for survivors of sexual trauma, shown in studies to be both grossly underreported and the leading cause of P.T.S.D. among servicewomen. Advocates say a medical professional’s diagnosis and written determination linking P.T.S.D. to sexual trauma, along with a survivor’s testimony, should be enough to meet the requirement. The V.A. could change the rule itself, or be directed to do so by legislation introduced earlier this year in both the House and the Senate.

See the New York Times.

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