The DoD, VA is Failing to Meet the Mental Health Needs of Sexual Assault Survivors
The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are failing to provide adequate mental health services to troops and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual assault — a deficiency that contributes to lifelong struggles, military rape survivors told Congress on Friday.
Earlier this week, the DoD Inspector General reported that more than 10 percent of sexual assault allegations within the military are not adequately investigated.
Speaking before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s health panel, four former troops said the military and VA also fail to provide adequate, timely access to health services and counseling for sex assault victims.
“Why is PTSD related to sexual assault so long lasting? It’s because it’s not properly treated or dealt with,” said Lisa Wilken, a former airman who was raped at age 22 by a co-worker.
The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 incidents of sexual assault, ranging from unwanted sexual contact to rape, occur each year across the services. But only about 3,600 are reported, according to anonymous surveys conducted by DoD.
Many don’t file reports out of fear of reprisal, concern for military careers or because they didn’t want anyone to know, according to the surveys.
But victims also don’t seek help because they have no faith the system, according to lawmakers.
None of the speakers was ever asked about their military history or sexual assault by initial screening physicians at VA and DoD; just one had received one-on-one mental health counseling for PTSD; and all wanted to avoid getting care at VA because of the prior treatment they’d received.
“Hearing the first panel was disconcerting, devastating. Your response to the testimony doesn’t seem that the sense of urgency is there,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif.
“I feel like we’re in two separate worlds,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind. “We just heard gut-wrenching testimony from courageous people whose lives have been ruined, and I’m frustrated because I’ve been asking questions since I’ve been here. The customer service may be going great for those who access the programs, but for tens of thousand of people, it isn’t working.”
House and Senate lawmakers of both parties continue to press the Pentagon to revamp the military justice system to remove decisions on prosecution, trial and punishment for sexual assault from the chain of command.
The House in June passed a bill sponsored by Walorski that would require the inspector general to investigate allegations of retaliation in connection with service members reporting sexual assault and to treat reports on sexual assault as communications protected by military whistleblower laws.