The American Civil Liberties Union in a report released Thursday shows how discrimination plagues sexual trauma survivors even after their military service is finished. The report finds that veterans suffering from military sexual trauma-related disability were less likely to receive disability benefits than veterans who made claims for other Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes.
Proving PTSD is a challenge for veterans being discharged from the armed services — connecting it sexual trauma during military service even harder. One explanation for the disparity in veteran benefits are the barriers to reporting sexual assault and harassment in the first place. “For survivors of in-service sexual trauma, lay testimony is often insufficient to prove the occurrence of the trauma,” the report notes. “These veterans must also present corroborating evidence of their sexual trauma. Because systematic under reporting of in-service sexual trauma often limits the amount of documentation surrounding that trauma, producing corroborating evidence can often be difficult.”
The following chart from the report shows how the Department of Veterans Affairs is less likely to grant sexual trauma survivors disability:
Based on data from Veterans Affairs, women filed more claims than men for sexual trauma PTSD. As a result, the rate of women receiving benefits for PTSD overall is 10 percent lower than for men. “The VA must treat a veteran’s disability claim fairly when it is based on sexual violence,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in a statement. “It’s inexcusable that the VA discriminates against survivors who have sacrificed so much for our country, but we’re hopeful this report will lead to reform by shining a light on the terrible hurdles these veterans face.”
Left to an environment of retaliation and harassment, victims face discrimination long before sexual assault victims reach their veterans office. While the number of reported assaults have risen substantially, according to the latest numbers, the number of estimated sexual assaults remains far higher. Even those estimates from the Department of Defense may be too low, according to a Center for American Progress report released on Wednesday.