Tester Urges Immediate Action to Improve Servicemembers’ Access to Military Sexual Trauma Resources and Care
Senator calls on Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments to work together to ensure all servicemembers receive education on VA MST resources during their transition from the military
U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is calling on senior leaders at the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take immediate action to address the findings of a recently-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on improving guidance, access to care, and training for servicemembers regarding military sexual trauma (MST) resources and care.
“Many of the [GAO report] findings related to the military-to-civilian transition process point to a need for greater cooperation and collaboration between the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) in providing resources for transitioning servicemembers who have experienced unwanted sexual behaviors or MST,” Tester wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Based on these findings, I urge you to ensure all servicemembers, regardless of gender or eligibility for VA health care, receive accurate, comprehensive education throughout their separation regarding VA resources for MST.”
Tester stressed his concerns with GAO’s finding that DOD transition programs are not consistently providing information to separating servicemembers on their potential eligibility for VA MST care, highlighting it as a “a missed opportunity” to inform servicemembers about critical resources. The Senator urged the Departments to work together to strengthen coordination between DOD sexual assault prevention and response personnel, VA MST coordinators, and VA Liaisons for Healthcare to ensure transitioning servicemembers receive information on all available VA resources for MST and unwanted sexual behavior.
Tester continued, “I was also concerned to learn the majority of the military services’ annual trainings on unwanted sexual behavior do not contain information on VA resources for servicemembers who have experienced MST. DOD should use these annual trainings as an opportunity to inform servicemembers of their eligibility to receive confidential counseling at VA Vet Centers…and their potential eligibility to receive MST-related services at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics.”
Additionally, the Senator urged the leaders to consider providing servicemembers with MST-related care at VA facilities without a referral and with the option to opt out of some record-sharing related to their MST care. Currently, servicemembers are unable to receive MST-related physical or mental health care at VA medical centers or outpatient clinics without a referral. Expanding servicemembers’ access to additional, confidential MST resources at VA without the need for referral could improve DOD and VA’s efforts to ensure MST survivors receive the care they need.
A long-time advocate of strengthening benefits and care for MST survivors, Tester championed the Deborah Sampson Act, which included provisions mandating VA expand eligibility for MST care and allowing VA to treat physical conditions arising from MST, in addition to mental health conditions. This Congress, Tester also reintroduced the bipartisan, bicameral Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act to expand the evidentiary standard for MST survivors applying for VA benefits to ensure they are provided equal access to the benefits and care they have earned. He has led the charge in introducing this legislation in 2021, 2019, and 2017.
Read the Senator’s full letter HERE.