Sexual Assault in the Military

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the New York Times November 17, 2013:

For veterans, the trauma of rape, sexual harassment, or sexual assault in the military can be as devastating as combat wounds. But these injuries, while real, are often invisible, and the circumstances behind them shrouded in secrecy and denial. The men and women who endure such crimes often have to fight a second battle, to convince the Department of Veterans Affairs that they are disabled and entitled to compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other afflictions resulting from service-connected sexual violence.

A report by advocates for sexual-trauma survivors paints a disheartening picture of unfair treatment. The advocates — the Service Women’s Action Network, the A.C.L.U. and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School — analyzed records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit covering disability claims from 2008 to 2012.

They found that when a PTSD claim was related to military sexual trauma, as opposed to combat or another reason, the V.A. was less likely to approve it. The grant rate for such claims lagged behind the rate for other claims by 17 to 30 percentage points in those years.

The report recommends common-sense reforms, like improving training and oversight for V.A. offices and relaxing the evidentiary standards for PTSD claims involving sexual assault in the military.

This has already been done for combat-related claims, where pinpointing a precise cause of the disorder is difficult. The military and the V.A. have long failed to confront the problem of sexual attacks against those in uniform. The survivors of such crimes too often find the path to justice and treatment blocked.

The Berry Law Firm has represented several veterans that have been the victims of sexual assault in the military. If you have questions, please contact us at 1.888.883.2483.