VA denied benefits to victims of military sexual assault, IG says

Matt Saintsing
August 21, 2018 - 4:00 pm

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More than a thousand victims of military sexual trauma were wrongly denied benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an inspector general report released Tuesday.

About 1,300 veterans were denied claims mishandled by the VA over a five-month span last year. Each year, approximately 12,000 veterans filed claims for post-traumatic stress (PTS) that stem from sexual trauma in the military.

In half of the botched cases, the VA failed to follow through on required medical exams. In others, the department didn’t acquire the proper records to substantiate the claims, or straight out denied claims despite conflicting evidence.

Additionally, the VA didn’t offer proper training to employees responsible for vetting these sensitive claims, as they differ from others such as traumatic brain injuries.

To right these wrongs, the IG recommends VA reassess the denied claims, begin new vetting processes and audits, and improve training for handling claims.  

New rules were implemented in 2011 that were intended to lessen burdens for survivors and give claim processors more leeway when determining benefits. It also mandated VA officials to look at the veterans’ total record.

Even if contradictory evidence is provided, the claim should “be resolved in favor of the veteran,” reads the report. In one instance, however, the veteran reported an assault to a VA medical center and received treatment elsewhere. That claim was denied without ordering a required medical exam.

VA undersecretary for benefits Paul Lawrence said the department would comply with the recommendations.

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