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VA called on to address benefits issue for sexual assault survivors

Members of congress are calling out the the Department of Veterans Affairs for wrongly denying hundreds of benefits claims in recent years to former servicemembers who were sexually assaulted while in the military.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, sent a letter to VA undersecretary for benefits Paul Lawrencethis week adressing the problems raised in a recent report from the Office of the Inspector General.

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The Veterans Benefits Administration processes around 12,000 claims per year for vets who claim to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to “military sexual trauma.” The VBA denied around 5,500 claims but an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found that in 2017 alone, the VBA incorrectly processed as many as 1,300 sexual trauma claims.

In their letter, Turner and Tsongas said they are “deeply concerned” and found the report “incredibly disturbing.” Turner and Tsongas are the co-chairs of the military sexual assault prevention caucus in congress.

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Turner is up for re-election this November. His opponent in the Ohio’s 10th District is Democrat Theresa Gasper.

“It is an outrage that the VA denied a shocking forty-six percent of benefit claims from the victims of military sexual assault. Service Members shouldn’t have to fear their own workplace or question whether our country and community will help treat their trauma or bring their attackers to justice while defending us from foreign adversaries,” Gasper said in a prepared statement.

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The two representatives asked that the VA provide them a copy of their action plan to correct the issues identified in the Inspector General’s report. They also requested written responses from the VBA secretary to the following four questions:

• Describe the military sexual trauma veterans’ benefit claims process and policies in effect, including the criteria for denial and process for appeal.

• Provide the timeline for when and how the VBA became aware that claims were not being processed according to policy. Was the VBA aware of any issues prior to the VA OIG review?

• Describe the internal oversight mechanism that will be put in place to ensure the military sexual assault claims are not process in violation of your own policies.

• What is your plan for reviewing military sexual assault trauma claims that were denied after the 2011 policy change to ensure these earlier cases were reviewed appropriately.

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