By Stephanie Kalota
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and while military units are holding pancake breakfasts and fun runs, I am highlighting legislation that could make a difference for Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors.
MST is one or more events during a service member’s time in service where he or she experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence.
The Wounded Warrior Project recently conducted a survey and found that 73 percent of women warriors said they have been sexually assaulted or harassed while in the military.
In the last two years, the Department of Defense has made some strides in improving the military justice system, but little improvement has been made with the Department of Veteran Affairs on the care of MST survivors.
A report published last year shows that despite the VA’s attempts to improve the disability claims process, women are more likely to be denied claims involving posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The underlying reason is that womens’ claims are based on the fact that they are more likely to experience MST, causing the development of PTSD.
The majority of these women veterans would not have reported their MST experience, thus lacking documentation and proof of assault or harassment. The reason men are more likely to be approved for PTSD claims is that their common causation of PTSD is combat.
Watch for the following Bills and voice your support for them with elected officials:
Senate Bill 3025 – Service Members and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2021, introduced by Senator Jon Tester. This bill would expand the definition of MST to include “technological abuse” such as using cyber bullying methods and cyber stalking. This bill would also set the standard of proof to approve veterans on mental health conditions that resulted from MST. This bill would require annual reviews and studies to quality check the effectiveness of these policies.
House Bill 6961 – Dignity for MST Survivors Act, introduced by Representative Frank Mrvan. This bill would try to improve hearings before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) claims that involve MST. The BVA is where claims are heard before a judge after the veteran has filed an appeal in the legacy appeals process or exhausted options in the current process. This bill would require that each member of the BVA complete training on claims involving MST prior to receiving the case.
House Bill 4627 – Veterans’ Culturally Competent Care Act by Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester. This bill would make the VA require non-VA mental health providers (that are utilized by the Community Care program) to complete courses that would familiarize them with veteran specific issues like MST.