Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bipartisan bill expands eligibility for VA travel benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswomen Jackie Walorski (IN-02) and Annie Kuster (NH-02) recently introduced legislation that makes victims of military sexual trauma (MST) eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary travel benefits. This bill, H.R. 2974, ensures travel expenses are covered for veterans seeking treatment from MST at appropriate VA facilities.

“It is unfathomable that men and women who once proudly wore the uniform are unable to receive the care they have earned for their selfless service to this country,” said Walorski. “Listening to the stories of veterans and their families, it is apparent that the VA is not doing enough to provide the necessary resources to help victims overcome the physical and psychological pain of military sexual trauma. I am grateful to work with Rep. Kuster on this important legislation, and am hopeful it is a step in the right direction by helping veterans access much needed care.”

“Our veterans have earned nothing short of the finest medical care,” Kuster said. “Military sexual trauma is a growing and unacceptable crisis, and MST survivors should never have to forgo treatment because of transportation issues or their distance from VA facilities. I am proud to partner with Rep. Walorski to introduce this legislation to help ensure those who bravely served our country receive the care they deserve.”

This bipartisan bill has received support from influential Veteran Service Organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Raymond Kelley, Director of the VFW National Legislative Service, said, “The VFW strongly believes that MST victims have suffered in silence for far too long, and it is time for them to be able to get the treatment they need. The fact that some may be unable to access the appropriate care due to transportation issues is a problem that must not be overlooked.” Kelley goes on to say, “[H.R. 2974] offers an effective solution to this problem by offering VA travel benefits to veterans seeking MST treatment.”

“VA is required to operate a program that provides counseling and the necessary care to veterans that need help in overcoming the physical and psychological stress of sexual assault and harassment. By ensuring that the travel expenses of veterans seeking MST-related treatment are covered, this bill would serve as a natural extension of the care required by VA for survivors of military sexual trauma,” said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of the IAVA.

A VA Inspector General report from December 2012 found that VA travel policy does not align with the treatment policy for victims of MST. This report also made recommendations to review existing VA policy pertaining to authorization of travel for veterans seeking MST-related treatment.


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