The U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that even though Veteran Affairs benefit workers have spent years working on claims related to military sexual assault, their claims are being handled inconsistently, the Military Times reported Tuesday.
The results are shocking to outside advocates: Thousands of victims have sought help from the department for years and have been let down by the benefit process when they submitted their claims, the GAO reports.
One in five female veterans and one in 100 male veterans reported some type of sexual abuse while they were in the military, according to 2012 VA statistics. From 2008 through 2013, nearly 30,000 claims were filed by veterans for disabilities related to military sexual trauma. Most said they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the abuse.
Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network, told the Military Times the VA isn’t focusing on the issues that need to be changed. “They keep laying new changes on top, but they aren’t changing the fundamental problems with the system,” he said.
Regional branches show stark variations in claims adjustment workers granting claims related to sexual trauma. For instance, one office approved 14 percent of claims, while another granted 88 percent.
Adjudicators “sometimes differ in how they interpret MST [military sexual trauma]-related requirements and make approval decisions,” the GAO report said.
The variation doesn’t always mean the cases are being handled incorrectly. “High denial rates or high approval rates do not necessarily equate to inappropriate denials or approvals,” the report said. “However, the extent of the variation raises the question of whether the data reflect real differences in evidence or differences in how the requirements are interpreted and applied.”
It seems the rules are blurred for both veterans and VA employees. After the report was released, VA officials decided that staff should take a training course on MST claims. The refresher should be ready for VA employees by August.
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