Lawsuit Filed Against VA On Behalf of Military Sexual Trauma Survivors

May 1, 2014

Veterans' advocacy groups are suing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging the VA discriminates against veterans who file PTSD disability claims based on being raped, assaulted, or sexually harassed while in the military.

Yale's Veterans Legal Services clinic filed the lawsuit on Wednesday on behalf of Service Women's Action Network and Vietnam Veterans of America. Any veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD related to his or her military service is entitled to seek disability compensation.

The groups said that if a veteran's PTSD stems from military sexual trauma, the VA imposes a greater procedural burden on him or her to prove the claims. The VA denies theses claims at a significantly higher rate than other PTSD claimants.

Policy Director for SWAN Greg Jacob, who is also a former Marine, said the groups want the VA to revise its regulations for PTSD claims. He said, "We have heard from dozens of sex assault survivors that have met standards, what the VA calls markers. They've submitted particular markers verbatim, almost, on what's in the regulation, but their claims are still being denied."

Jacob said that data from 2009 to 2012 shows that military, sexual trauma-related PTSD claims were approved 16 to 30 percent less frequently than other PTSD claims. The lawsuit also said that the VA's current rules discriminate on the basis of gender against both men and women veterans.

SWAN and VVA filed a petition a year ago asking the VA to revise the regulations for PTSD claims, but the VA ignored the request. The VA does not respond to pending litigation, but it said in a statement that the department is working very hard to ensure claims are adjudicated fairly.