Tester, Baucus call new military sexual trauma stats disturbing

Senators respond to report from Service Women’s Action Network

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today released the following statements in response to a report showing that from 2008 to 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs approved PTSD disability benefit claims for survivors of military sexual trauma at a rate far below PTSD claims unrelated to military sexual trauma:

“This disturbing news shows that we still have much more work to do to make sure survivors of military sexual trauma are treated the same as other veterans. I appreciate the Service Women’s Action Network’s efforts to support sexual assault survivors, and I will continue to fight to get all veterans the benefits they deserve,” Tester said.

“Seeking justice is not just about prosecuting offenders, but also making sure survivors have the support they need to recover. After fighting for our country, sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have to fight for the resources they need. They deserve to know their country has their backs,” Baucus said. “We’ve got to do more to encourage folks to come forward and stop sexual violence from taking place.”

Today’s revelations stem from a report by the Service Women’s Action Network, which acquired the information through a Freedom of Information Act request of VA records. The data shows that the approval rate for military sexual trauma (MST)-related PTSD claims was between 16.5 and 30 percent lower than non-MST-related PTSD claims during the five year period.

The report also shows that a higher percentage of men have their claims denied and that there is a strong variation in how VA regional offices treat disability claims.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced the Ruth Moore Act to make it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to get the veterans disability benefits they need. Baucus is a co-sponsor of the bill. Tester and Baucus also introduced legislation to ensure military members are able to report sexual assault without fear of harassment or intimidation.

Tester also recently introduced legislation to force the Defense Department and the VA to establish a system that shares military medical records and reduces the veterans claims backlog.

According to the Defense Department, there were more than 3,500 reports of sexual assault in the military from October 2012 to June 2013 – nearly a 50 percent increase over the same period from the previous year.