Veterans' Disability and PTSD Based on Military Sexual Trauma

It took 23 years for one woman to receive veterans’ disability compensation. The woman was raped by a supervisor while serving in the Navy. In the years following the sexual assault, she suffered night terrors, insomnia and panic attacks. She was filing a claim for PTSD based on military sexual trauma.

A Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is looking at barriers that veterans face when seeking disability compensation. One concern is that PTSD claims by women who were sexually assaulted during their military service are treated differently than other PTSD claims.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Veteran Affairs and Department of Defense showed that the agency granted only 32 percent of the claims of PTSD based on military sexual trauma from 2008 to 2010. During the same time, the approval rate for all other PTSD claims was 54 percent.

The women awarded disability benefits after suffering a military sexual trauma also generally received a lower disability rating than men diagnosed with PTSD. The women thus qualified for less compensation.

Evidence Requirement

Female veterans must establish a connection between a PTSD diagnosis and a sexual assault that occurred during their service. The VA may request additional proof of a sexual assault, such as a police report. However, few assaults are reported, because women may fear reprisal. An experienced veterans’ disability lawyer can assist in gathering the evidence needed to connect a PTSD diagnosis with military sexual trauma.

Women who suffer military sexual assault and subsequent PTSD may not get the disability benefits they deserve because of current VA hurdles. Many women do not fight for 23 years like the Navy veteran. The recent hearing is a start toward bringing attention to the serious issue of sexual violence within the military ranks.

Source: ACLU blog, “We Must Honor the Service of All Veterans, Including Sexual Assault Victims,” Sandra Park, July 20, 2012.