Ernst, McCaskill Call on VA to Better Assist Veteran Survivors of Sexual Assault

Following a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) top watchdog showing nearly half of denied claims involving Military Sexual Trauma were improperly processed, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called for the VA to better assist veteran survivors of sexual assault and ensure they receive the benefits they’re owed.

“Unfortunately, survivors of sexual assault can face a number of obstacles in their recovery,” the Senators wrote in a bipartisan letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “When they reach out to the VA to receive benefits and treatment, we owe it to them to ensure they do not face the further injustice of an improper denial because VA staff lack proper training on how to handle their claims.”

The report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General found that nearly half of denied Military Sexual Trauma claims were not properly processed, which could have resulted in the denial of benefits to survivors who would be entitled to receive them. The report cited multiple factors that led to the improper handling of these claims, including: lack of reviewer specialization, lack of an additional level of review, discontinued special focused reviews, and inadequate training.

Ernst and McCaskill have worked together to combat sexual assault in the military and support survivors against retaliation. The 2016 annual defense bill included a plan, which is now law, by Ernst and McCaskill to further curb sexual assault in the military. Ernst and McCaskill’s Military Retaliation Prevention Act targets stubbornly high rates of survivors who report that they have been retaliated against by their peers after coming forward. Those rates of experienced retaliation remain high, even as the number of assaults has dropped and reporting by victims has gone up.

Ernst and McCaskill have also teamed up with a bipartisan group of colleagues to address sexual violence on college campuses with the Campus Accountability and Safety Act—legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses by protecting students, promoting equity, and strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions.