A bipartisan group of senators is pushing Veterans Affairs leaders to step up efforts to help victims of military sexual assault through better outreach and education about available services, saying that too few potential beneficiaries are aware of the help.

The move follows a Disabled American Veterans report last month, which recommended more focus on women veterans mental health issues, and a White House budget request last week to boost funding for women veterans medical care by 11% in fiscal 2025.

But in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough sent Tuesday, 33 Democratic and Republican lawmakers noted that publicity of existing services appears to be a bigger barrier to care than available resources.

“While we commend the VA for providing free counseling and evidence-based treatment for women with military sexual trauma, these services are clearly under-utilized, as only approximately half of female veterans with an MST history use VA healthcare,” the message stated.

“Women veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma already endure so many hardships. Let’s work to eliminate any barriers to VA care so they can access the high-quality care that they deserve.”

Past VA studies have found as many as one in three women veterans have experienced some form of sexual assault or abuse while serving in the military. A 2022 study by the department found that women who experienced military sexual trauma are 65% more likely to contemplate suicide than their peers.

The letter — led by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Angus King, I-Maine — calls for the department to direct the Women Veterans Call Center “to conduct additional outreach tailored to women veterans with military sexual trauma” to ensure individuals are aware of available support services.

Lawmakers also asked for details on ongoing suicide prevention efforts and medical center training requirements to ensure that the issue is being addressed by VA leadership.

In a statement, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said department officials are working on the issue, particularly when it comes to disability claims for veterans with military sexual trauma.

“VA is committed to a compassionate experience for veteran survivors of military sexual trauma filing for benefits that is trauma-informed, sensitive, and treats them with dignity,” he said. “We recognize the courage and strength of MST survivors to come forward and file a claim for disability compensation. That’s why VA treats all claims, but especially those related to MST, with the utmost respect and the seriousness they deserve.”

Hayes said other improvements are planned in coming months.

Veterans Affairs leaders have identified women veterans as one of the fastest growing populations within the veterans community. About 18% of all veterans in America are expected to be women by 2040.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

In Other News
Load More