Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a mental health concern that has been affiliated with the United States Armed Services due to the frequent deployments to places with extreme combat, high intensity environments, and various experiences that can wear on an individual’s psyche. Another, less often addressed, type of trauma that is affiliated with the United States Armed Services is military sexual trauma or MST. According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) most recent report, more than 5,200 service members, men and women, reported being sexually assaulted in 2017. That’s an increase of 10% from the previous year and has sparked an interest in may inside and out of the military space.
During the course of the investigation the OIG found that nearly half of the MST claims submitted to VA were not properly processed according the Veterans Benefits Administration’s claim processing policy. The violation of policy ranged from wrongful denial of benefits to failure to process the claims all together. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) reported processing close to 12,000 claims a year for the past three years related to MST, and of those 46 percent were denied. Overall the OIG estimates that the VBA incorrectly handled more than 1,300 MST related cases.
In short, the OIG found that the mishandling of the cases was due to a culmination of factors, however the largest being inadequate training on all levels. The OIG mentioned that due to lack of inadequate other structural break downs were able to occur from the top down, including lack of specialization, lack of additional level of review, and discontinued special focused reviews. During the investigation other findings surrounding the VBA’s training programs came to light. The VBA has not updated MST training since 2014!
When an individual decides to sign up and fight for the country they love, the last thing on their mind is self gain; they are looking to put the country and the future of this country first. Time away from their families, bodily harm, and personal agendas are pushed aside when duty calls. This does not give the VA permission to do the same to the service member when they enter veteran status. MST is not a gender specific problem or a sexual identity related problem, it is a culture problem that needs to be handled by the correct professionals with the right amount of empathy and expertise in their field. Working off of 2014 training methods is not the best for our veterans.
The whole purpose of the VBA is to take care of our veterans after they risked everything to protect our nation and our very way of of life. The purpose of the VBA is not to re-traumatize our valued veterans and mishandle and misdirect their claims during a sensitive time in their lives. The OIG hopefully will become a beacon of light in these dark times for our veterans and a symbol of hope for all service members debating whether or not to submit a claim.
The report was bleak, but there is some light. The OIG created a multi-step series of recommendations to not only better serve veterans who look to the VBA to correctly process their MST claims but to better the VBA institution as a whole. These recommendations included:
- Review all denied MST claims starting back to 2017
- Taking corrective action of all claims that were incorrectly handled
- Re-assigning MST claims to a specialized group of processors
- And restructuring the VBA’s oversight and training curriculum
Time will tell if VBA will fully implement these recommendations, but overall, it appears VBA is moving in the right direction after this OIG report.
In the meantime, IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP) is here for any veteran or family member that is in need of support. Reach out to us today.