Walorski, Kuster Reintroduce Bill to Ensure Military Sexual Trauma Survivors Can Access Care

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Walorski, Kuster Reintroduce Bill to Ensure Military Sexual Trauma Survivors Can Access Care

Bipartisan Legislation Expands Eligibility for VA Travel Benefits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) access treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). H.R. 713 would make MST survivors eligible for benefits to cover expenses when they need to travel long distances to receive treatment.

“Survivors of military sexual trauma should never face unnecessary barriers to overcoming their physical and psychological pain,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “Keeping our promise to our nation’s veterans is not just about providing the best possible care – it’s about making sure veterans can access the treatment and services they need, regardless of their geographic location or their distance from VA facilities. This bipartisan bill will help survivors of military sexual trauma by expanding eligibility for travel benefits when they need to travel long distances to receive care.”

“The prevalence of sexual trauma in the military is outrageous,” said Kuster. “Sadly, many survivors of military sexual trauma face challenges in accessing the physical and mental health services they need when they return home, because the VA does not provide travel benefits to all victims of MST. This failure must end. It’s critical that survivors are able access care that will help them recover from this trauma.”

BACKGROUND

The crisis of servicemembers experiencing sexual assault and harassment remains a serious problem in the military. According to VA data, approximately one in four women and one in 10 men seeking VA care say they experienced military sexual trauma. In fiscal year 2017, the Department of Defense (DoD) received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers, a nearly 10 percent increase over the previous year.

The VA provides counseling, health care services, and other treatment to veterans who experienced MST. However, many survivors must travel long distances to receive treatment but are unable to obtain travel benefits to access the care they need. H.R. 713 would allow veterans to be reimbursed for travel outside their Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) when seeking treatment related to MST.

A 2012 VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report found the VA’s Beneficiary Travel policy does not align with its MST treatment policy, under which MST patients are referred to programs that are clinically indicated regardless of geographic location. Veterans with MST are often admitted to programs outside their VISN, but obtaining authorization for travel funding is frequently cited as a problem.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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