Blog of Rights

Congress Has a Bone to Pick with the VA

By Elayne Weiss, Washington Legislative Office at 10:39am

Last month, the ACLU and the Service Women's Action Network, with support from the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic, released a report documenting the discrimination experienced by military veterans who file disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by military sexual violence. Battle for Benefits: VA Discrimination Against Survivors of Military Sexual Violence analyzes new data obtained from the VA by SWAN, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation we filed three years ago.

Fortunately, members of Congress took note of our report and demanded answers from the VA.  Last week, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) led a bipartisan group of 49 representatives in urging the VA to improve its oversight, transparency, training and record keeping for disability claims for PTSD arising from sexual violence.

In their letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the group wrote, “As you know, sexual assault and harassment are serious problems in the United States armed forces that threaten the strength, readiness, and morale of the military, undermine national security, and have devastating personal effects on survivors and their families. Yet, based on records that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) withheld for years, it is evident that veterans who survive in-service sexual trauma also face discrimination in seeking compensation."

We commend these lawmakers for taking action to address the unfair and unacceptable barriers our military vets who have experienced sexual violence face when seeking the disability benefits they deserve. These brave men and women have sacrificed so much in serving their country. It’s long past due for the VA to stand by its mission and “treat all veterans and their families with the utmost dignity and compassion."

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