Tester Statement Following Alarming Watchdog Reports on VA Handling of Military Sexual Trauma

Following two OIG reports detailing failed handling of military sexual trauma claims & necessary care coordination improvements, Chairman announces bicameral effort to bolster support for survivors

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester released a statement today following two alarming reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) detailing failed handling of claims under the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and improvements needed for coordinating care for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST):

“It’s unacceptable that any man or woman in uniform should face barriers to earned benefits and care—especially those who are victims of sexual assault or harassment. These reports make clear that VA needs to aggressively and unequivocally increase accountability, improve claims processing, and expand supportive services to better care for MST survivors. In the coming weeks, I’ll be leading a bicameral effort to restore veterans’ confidence in the VA system and provide all survivors who have endured the unimaginable with the best possible care and services to address their trauma.”

The first OIG report found VBA claims processors did not always follow the policies and procedures for processing MST claims, and did not comply with the OIG’s August 2018 report recommendations for corrective action. In fact, VBA’s handling of MST claims appears even worse than before given the OIG found about 57 percent of denied MST claims were still not being processed correctly in 2019—an increase from 49 percent in the August 2018 report. By not implementing the necessary recommendations, veteran MST survivors remain at risk of not receiving the benefits and care for which they are entitled, and of being re-traumatized when their claims are improperly handled or denied.

Based on a survey of 158 MST Coordinators from the Veterans Health Administration, the second OIG report found MST Coordinators’ ability to coordinate and provide care to MST survivors was challenged by insufficient protected administrative time, role and time demands, insufficient support staff, and inadequate funding and outreach materials. This was despite an increase in veterans seeking MST-related mental health care over the past decade.

A longtime advocate for MST survivors, Tester led the charge in 2019 to improve access to care and benefits for survivors of MST through his Servicemembers and Veterans' Empowerment and Support Act, building on the Ruth Moore Act from previous Congresses. Last year, the Senator successfully secured critical language in an end-of-year veterans’ package expanding access to VA health care for all MST survivors and requiring specialized teams at VBA to evaluate disability claims involving MST. Tester will be reintroducing this bicameral legislation in the 117th Congress, continuing his push to improve MST claims processing and expand access to earned benefits and health care for survivors.