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This NYSHealth-produced policy brief examines the progress of Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) in New York State and lays out a roadmap for expanding VTCs across the State and nationally.
Sexual assault and harassment are serious problems in the United States armed forces that threaten the strength, readiness, and morale of the military, undermine national security, and have devastating personal effects on survivors and their families. Less well known is the second battle that many veterans who survive sexual violence must fight with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when they return to civilian life. The process of obtaining VA disability benefits for the enduring mental health effects of military sexual trauma (MST) is an unfair fight in which veterans are often unsuccessful. They face a broken bureaucracy, with protracted delays and inaccurate adjudications. And based on records that VA has withheld until now, it is clear that veterans who survive in-service sexual trauma also face discrimination in seeking compensation. This report presents the first opportunity for veterans, policy-makers, and the public to examine in detail the experiences of MST survivors as they seek compensation from VA. It is based on data provided by VA in settlement of two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The lawsuits were brought by the Service Women's Action Network, ACLU Women's Rights Project, and the ACLU of Connecticut, with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School serving as lead counsel. As a result of these settlements, VA handed over never-before-released data on mental health disability benefit claims filed by veterans suffering from the aftermath of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. These data offer a close look at the enduring health consequences and bureaucratic battles that survivors of in-service3 sexual trauma face as they transition back to civilian life. Notably, the data reveal that VA has granted disability claims for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by in-service sexual trauma at significantly lower rates than it has granted claims for PTSD arising from other causes. Moreover, the data also reveal dramatic variation among VA regional offices in the treatment of MST-related mental health claims and disparate treatment by gender.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF), have demanded unprecedented service at every level of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. For the first time in our military history, active duty, reservists, and guard servicemen and women have been required to complete multiple deployments. These repeated, lengthy deployments combined with limited family "dwell" time in between have deteriorated the stability of many military families. Of the almost two million Americans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many arrive home with serious mental health conditions and injuries that increase relationship stress, marital strain, and family violence.The first large-scale, nongovernmental assessment of the psychological needs of OIF/OEF service members, released by the Rand Corporation in 2008, revealed that 38 percent of these combat veterans suffered from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), major depression, traumatic brain injury, or some combination of the three -- yet less than half had sought treatment. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suggest that these numbers have almost doubled; Forty-four percent of those who came to the VA for help have been diagnosed with one or more mental health issue. This psychological and emotional toll on our veterans has put them at greater risk of perpetrating family violence. Research has found that:Male veterans with PTS are two to three times more likely to engage in intimate partner violence, compared to those without PTS -- up to six times higher than the general civilian population.81% of veterans suffering from depression and PTS have engaged in at least one violent act against their partner in the past year.Over half of veterans with PTS performed one severe act of violence in the past year -- more than 14 times higher than the general civilian population.However, the confluence of domestic violence, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTS, and other mental health injuries among war veterans is by no means fully understood at this point, and requires greater analysis and investigation.