Paul Lawrence, PhD, VA’s Undersecretary for Benefits, recently announced that VA will begin a review of PTSD claims filed last year by veterans who experienced a Military Sexual Trauma. In fiscal year 2017, VA denied 5,500 of 12,000 claims submitted for PTSD related to a military sexual trauma. In August 2018 VA’s Inspector General released a report that found VA did not follow its own policy in approximately half of those denied claims. Because of the nature of a sexual trauma, they are often unreported and undocumented. VA found that servicemembers may not report an assault for the following reasons: 1) Reluctance to submit a report when the perpetrator is a superior officer; 2) Concerns about negative implications for performance reports; 3) Worries about punishment for collateral misconduct, and 4) The perception of an unresponsive military chain of command.
This makes it difficult for a veteran to present evidence of an in-service stressor to support a claim. Therefore, in 2011 VA implemented special guidelines to examine a claim for PTSD caused by military sexual trauma. The guidelines eased the typical rules on the types of evidence VA can use confirm an in-service stressor. Raters are required to consider additional factors which could prove the veteran’s claim.
Unfortunately, these new rules were not followed in half of the reviewed cases. However, based on the IG’s recommendation, VA is reviewing all claims denied for military sexual trauma since 2017. VA is also retraining claims processors and adding additional layers of review. If you were recently denied a claim for military sexual trauma, you should consider contacting VA to ensure yours is part of the review. And if you have any questions, please contact us.