By Diana D. Danis
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) thought the best way to wind up 2020 was to blindside as many women veterans as possible, on the heels of screwing up claims for many of them and failing to include the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in their planning. Decision-making by myopia.
“My anxiety has been off the charts. I feel shocked, traumatized, angry, harassed, stressed and violated”—the candid response of one of many thousands of women veterans cold-called by the Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits Administration December 17th to cover Military Sexual Trauma.
They seem to have scrubbed through the data of millions of disabled veterans in their files for those assaulted in the military in order to put them in a national phone “Town Hall.” Many of those were called as they were preparing a meal, driving to appointments or at work and were stunned by the content which was, at times, extraordinarily graphic.
In the process, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) violated HIPAA rights on multiple levels.
- They identified Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors – both men and women. HIPAA.
- They sent emails to some that included the list of many other survivors they were contacting. HIPAA.
- They cold-called survivors, who recognized the phone number and answered with no idea what was awaiting them on the call.
- Only some of the cold-call list were sent emails.
- Many of the survivors had never even told their family and friends they suffered sexual violence during their time in uniform. HIPAA.
The zinger to this mess was that this same VBA Chief planned a Town Hall on “Veterans in Crisis, Suicide Prevention” for December 22nd. Three days before Christmas.
This time of year, spilling over into the next, is always a time of concern in the advocacy community. We do our best to keep people informed about phone numbers and organizations that can assist them when they are suffering suicidal thoughts. The suicide phone call was cancelled, thankfully.
Meantime, the VBA appointee is convinced he did a good job and would do it again. This is gaslighting, when you continue to torture those you have already harmed.
Undersecretary Dr. Paul Lawrence and Deputy Margarita Devlin need their resignations accepted January 20th.
Many of those in the women veterans community have vowed never to take another call from the VA or continue with treatment in their facilities – in spite of the fact that Benefits and Health are separate entities. More discussion and cooperation seem key.
Service Women Who Serve asks all you to help us hold the VA accountable for these massive failings.
May 2021 contain fewer dumpster fires and more joy.
Diana D. Danis Lead Administrator, Service: Women Who Serve Advocate, Activist, Writer, Author, Feminist, Anti-Racist with a world view.