A Connecticut attorney testified before Congress Wednesday on ways to improve the claims process for veterans who've been sexually assaulted while in the military.
When veterans are raped or sexually assaulted while in the service, it's called military sexual trauma or MST.
The Department of Defense estimates more than 19,000 sexual assaults happened in 2010, but it's a problem that's often under-reported.
Margaret Middleton is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. Among the veterans she represents are those who need help filing claims with the VA for benefits after having been raped or sexually assaulted.
Middleton was invited to testify at a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs subcommittee. She says the VA makes it difficult for these veterans to get the benefits they've earned.
"For victims of MST, they're required to produce documentary evidence that very few of them have," Ms. Middleton said.
She recounts one story of a Marine who got extensive help by Yale's Veterans Legal Services clinic in filing a claim. She and students at Yale were able to help 30 years after she was raped at boot camp.
"She was raped at Camp Lejeune in the Marines at age 18. So there was none of the evidence the VA requires. She didn't seek medical help, she didn't seek mental health help, she didn't report her assailant. Reaching the evidentiary burden to come up with contemperaneous evidence of the event, is a huge burden and without a tremendous amount of help it's not realistic that veterans like her can get justice from the VA," Ms. Middleton said.
Advocates are asking the VA to change the disability claims process so servicemembers are not required to provide documentation of an assault in order to prove they have a health condition like PTSD.