Turner, Tsongas Hold VA Accountable for Mishandling of Sexual Assault Survivor Benefit Claims
by Mike Turner on September 6, 2018 at 8:29 AM
This week, Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA-3) and I, co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, called on the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) to address a report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) that identified the VBA mishandled hundreds of benefit claims submitted by military sexual assault survivors in 2017. In a letter to VA Under Secretary Dr. Paul R. Lawrence, Rep. Tsongas and I requested to immediately be provided with the VBA’s “action plan to correct the deficiencies identified in the report and begin the review of claims that were denied.”
The VA OIG report, released earlier this month, estimates the VBA incorrectly processed approximately 1,300 of the 2,700 benefit claims that were denied between April and September 2017. This report comes after the VBA released updated guidance in 2011 stating it would take a “liberal approach” when examining evidence of military sexual trauma for veterans benefit Claims.
For the past decade, we have worked together in a bipartisan manner to prevent sexual assault in the military and provide resources to those who have been assaulted. There is an understanding that when someone serves our country, they will be taken care of. What the IG’s report shows is that the VBA is not fulfilling that obligation to our veterans who have endured military sexual trauma. The number of veterans potentially impacted by the VBA’s failure to provide benefits to these victims is staggering and unacceptable.
In our letter to Under Secretary Lawrence, we requested in writing the following from the VBA:
● A description of the military sexual trauma veterans’ benefit claims process and policies in effect, including the criteria for denial and process for appeal.
● A timeline for when and how the VBA became aware that claims were not being processed according to policy, including an answer as to whether the VBA was aware of any issues prior to the IG report.
● A description of the internal oversight mechanism that will be put in place to prevent this failure in the future.
● The VBA’s plan for reviewing military sexual assault trauma claims that were denied to ensure earlier cases since 2011 were reviewed appropriately.
● The VBA’s action plan to correct the deficiencies identified in the report and begin the review of claims that were denied.