Veterans may not realize that they do not need new evidence in order to resubmit a previously denied claim for PTSD benefits related to military sexual trauma (MST), according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report also claims evidence that an overwhelming number of veterans who are aware of the opportunity to resubmit a claim may choose not to do so because they perceive the process to be too complex to navigate.
In 2011, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) conducted random sampling, discovering that more than one in four MST-related claims had been improperly denied. If the sample accurately represents claims made over the last several decades, thousands of survivors of military sexual assault were denied benefits in error.
In response, the VBA created a 2013 initiative to allow resubmission of all denied MST-related claims. However, the initiative has not been widely publicized, and the GAO’s new report asserts that when the VBA did notify some veterans of the opportunity to submit a claim, the letter that was mailed was confusing and lacked essential contact information.
Meanwhile, criticism of the VBA’s handling of MST-related claims continues to mount. The Veterans Administration (VA) has faced a barrage of lawsuits alleging discrimination against victims of military sexual trauma.
Since 2008, data have shown that year over year, MST-related PTSD claims are denied more frequently than combat-related PTSD claims — despite medical experts’ testimony that sexual assault is even more likely to result in PTSD than combat. The new report from the GAO affirms that while more MST-related claims are now being approved, their approval rate still lags behind that of combat-related PTSD claims.
One of the reasons widely cited for the difficulty in approving MST-related claims is the struggle to provide evidence that sexual trauma occurred. Embarrassment and fear of retaliation cause many servicemembers to conceal an incident.
The most recent lawsuit, filed by the Yale Law School’s Veteran’s Legal Service Clinic, is seeking to make a servicemember’s own testimony sufficient to establish that an incident of military sexual trauma did occur.
Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC fights for veterans rights. We fight to make sure you get the benefits you deserve from the Department of Veterans Affairs. To learn more or contact an attorney about your Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, Mental Health, Sexual Assault, Hearing Loss and Tinnitus, Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability, Medical Malpractice, or Aid and Attendance claim, visit http://www.legalhelpforveterans.com/ or call 800.693.4800